Sunday 26 February 2012

Referendum date

The Scottish Sunday Sun launched today with a front page "exclusive" declaring that the date of the referendum on Scottish independence will be Saturday 18 October 2014. There is no official confirmation of this from the Scottish government as yet - but no denial either. If it is a guess it would appear to be an informed one.

Even an unofficial announcement of the date such as this will inevitably be seen as yet another put-down for Cameron, Moore and the rest who, in an attempt to look as if they are in control, have been demanding that the referendum be held a year earlier than proposed by the Scottish government. Such casual disregard for their interventions only serves to underline how ineffectual and powerless the UK government is, while bolstering the impression that Salmond is calmly and efficiently steering events as he and his team see fit.

This impression of effective control is further emphasised by reports that the Scottish government plans to adopt innovative measures designed to ensure the largest possible turn-out for the referendum. Supposing the Sun on Sunday's story to be accurate, perhaps the most significant of these is the intention to hold the referendum on a Saturday, breaking with nearly eight decades of tradition which has seen all polls in the UK held on a Thursday.

Other novel measures being considered include using shops and libraries as polling places and allowing 16 and 17-year olds to vote.

Given their record in such matters, we can be reasonably sure that the British government and the anti-independence parties will object to both the date and all other proposals in the usual knee-jerk fashion. But this will only present the Scottish government with more opportunities to override these objections leaving opponents looking ever more out of the loop. They can safely do this as public opinion is likely to favour such things as holding the vote on a Saturday if not for any clear practical reasons then simply because it is a worthy effort to make the process more inclusive. And the objections will be generally regarded as unwarranted and possibly malicious interference by the Tories and their Labour and LibDem allies.

Nonetheless, we can surely look forward to a week of British nationalist propaganda with the customary "Salmond accused...!" headlines claiming that the SNP are trying to "rig" the referendum. The real objection, of course, is that the anti-independence parties are being denied the opportunity to rig the referendum to suit their own purposes.

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