The exact nature of that referendum - will it be two-option, will it be three-option, how will it be worded, who will get to vote and so forth - will be battered out over the next weeks and months. It is right and proper these things are discussed. There are good arguments (for both sides) for having a three-option referendum. There are good arguments (for both sides) for having a two-option referendum.
At this moment, I think I'd be keen to have a two-option referendum but I can see the argument both ways and may return to this subject at some point in the future.
I have set up this blog - a spin-off from the football blog Left Back In The Changing Room - because I am a politics junkie as well as a football geek. This blog will examine the various issues of debate which I am sure will happen over the next two and a half years.
I do not intend to blog massively frequently but will do from time to time. My sports blog will continue to be my first love but I will occasionally analyse issues pertaining to the independence debate.
I am a unionist - in the sense that I think that the Scots, and the other people of these islands, would be better continuing with the Union that is the United Kingdom. If you are not a unionist, or you haven't made up your mind, you are more than welcome here. Maybe you'll be persuaded either way by myself or in the comments. Welcome aboard!
So, if I were an advisor to the Unionist camp, what would I be saying?
- I think it is important for the Tory-led coalition in Westminster to understand the general feeling to Tories or - more correctly - a particular strain of Tories in Scotland. It would therefore be folly to put a Tory in charge of the Unionist cause. It would be folly to have George Osborne anywhere near it. The suggestions being mooted of some form of 'tri-partite group' consisting of Alistair Darling, Charles Kennedy and Annabel Goldie seems sensible.
This is for three reasons:
Firstly, regardless of politics, these three are generally well-regarded in Scotland in particular.
Secondly, each has a particular strength within that - Darling for his cool-headed forensic analysis (I disagree with the man on many matters but he is clearly a heavyweight and - equally clearly - someone who Salmond would have trouble dealing with when it comes to detail); Charles Kennedy for being removed from the coalition but also - in terms of debating ability and general popularity - a match for Salmond and, darling Bella, who is a Tory but seems to have crossed the boundary of outright hatred to grudging respect in La Belle Ecosse.
Thirdly, and most importantly, having three figures means that this does not become Salmond vs Cameron or, Lord help us all, Salmond vs Lamont. It is not a presidential debate and if it is going to be one, Salmond will probably win.
- Whilst I think that is a strong trio, I would rather like an English MP - or at least an English MP with Scottish links - to be involved. This debate is about Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom but part of that is making a case for the Union itself. If one is to do that it doesn't need to be Scots alone making that case. That said, the unionists must balance ''English voices'' and ''English tone''. For that matter, I'd like someone like Rory Stewart to be involved. He is - yes - a Tory. He is - yes - an Etonian. However, he is also a free thinker, one who has Scottish roots and one who is likely to debate properly.
- And that's the next piece of advice: Go Positive. Make the positive case for the Union. State why it is good for the UK, why it is good for Scotland and the Scots and why it is good for the other people's of these isles.
As a sub-point, it wouldn't hurt for those arguing for the Union to make the Scots feel wanted and needed. Flattery sometimes works especially when it is true. The Scots have, in terms of population, added disproportionately to the success of this union. They add a lot and we should tell them we want them. Yes, they benefit from it - of course they do - but so do the English and Welsh and Northern Irish.
And, as a further sub-point (bloody hell - ed.): don't go for the man, always play the ball. Salmond is a fine politician and a pretty good debater but he does have an occasional tendency to go for the man rather than the argument. Deal with his arguments intellectually, show the inconsistencies (e.g. that Scotland and England have different economies but not different enough to cause problems if - in the future - the rump of the UK would control monetary policy), and make the case strongly and fairly. Point out, however, whenever Mr Salmond does indulge in ad hominems..
- The Holyrood Unionist parties would do well to stop banging on about this. Let the debate rage outside the Scottish Parliament. Take the debate on the road. In Parliament, focus entirely on the SNP's record - hold them to account as an opposition should do. If the SNP decides to focus on independence, and bring it up in parliament, say things like ''why are you focusing on that event rather than government - we are focusing on opposing your government''.
There will be many twists and turns over the next two and a half years. It might be that the SNP's astonishing success will continue. It might be that a major event will turn the tide one way or the other.
So, in Clintonian terms of summing things up.
- Team up
- Use many voices
- Go relentlessly positive
- Focus in parliament
I am receptive to any comments in the comments section (should I be lucky enough to (i) have anyone read these pieces (ii) anyone feels motivated enough to comment). I hope in my pieces to be balanced, fair and polite. I would hope that commenters feel the same but I will not hesitate to delete offensive comments (from either side). I promise to always explain why posts are deleted so that commenters understand.
Finally, There are patriots, and good people, on the side of seceding from the Union. There are patriots, and good people, on the side of maintaining the United Kingdom. We should recognise that and engage in the debate.
PS - I have tried this once before and failed regarding politics here. I know, I know. I need to get out more.