Monday, 1 December 2014

Generation game

A by-product of the indyref is that promises made by the pro-Union parties are being put under the microscope.

The Vow, published in the Daily Record and which committed its signatories to “extensive” new powers for Holyrood, has now taken shape in the form of the Smith Commission report.

However, it was not just the pro-Union side that made commitments during the campaign.

For years, the SNP answered the charge that a referendum would turn into a neverendum by saying that a plebiscite was a one-off event.

Or, more precisely, a “once-in-a-generation” event.

A newspaper cuttings search shows how this promise has been gradually altered and watered down.

In April 2007, days before the SNP defeated Scottish Labour in that month’s Holyrood election, Alex Salmond left himself little wriggle room:
"In my view it's a once in a generation thing. 
"There was a referendum on devolution in 1979 and then the next referendum on devolution was in 1997 and that seems to me to be the overwhelming likelihood." 
In other words, the gap between two independence polls would be 18 years.

In 2008, by which time the SNP was running the Government, the then deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon echoed her leader’s position: “My view is a referendum is a once-in-a-generation event.

Four years later, after SNP MSP Sandra White said a second referendum could quickly follow the first, Salmond’s spokesman held the line:
"As the First Minister has made clear on many occasions, the referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

By February 2014, the position began to shift.

In an article on an independence event in Dundee, the Daily Record reported Sturgeon defining “generation” as around 15 years, down from the original 18.

Salmond also said the 1979-1997 analogy was now the "sort of time period" in which a second referendums take place.

The terminology was tweaked again in June, with Salmond telling a daily newspaper: "A referendum on the constitution is once in a political generation."

He repeated “political generation” – a phrase without any fixed meaning – several times and moved further away from his 2007 formulation on the Marr show by adding that it was “just my opinion”.

Post-referendum, where stands the original commitment?

As he announced his intention to quit as First Minister, Salmond did not mention a “political generation”, but referred to the result as moving the “base camp” of independence closer to the summit.

Sturgeon has also moved beyond the‘g’ word, instead repeating a new line that she is not “planning” another referendum.

In these fevered political times, it may be an idea to hold the feet of both sides to the fire.