Observant readers will have noticed the lack of any discussion of the Scottish referendum bill, which was due to be published by the Scottish Government on 25 January. The reason for the absence of discussion is simple – the absence of a bill. The Scottish Government has said that instead a bill will be published in draft form, at some future date. There’s coverage from the Caledonian Mercury here, and the Scotsman here and here.
It’s obvious that the bill has been put to one side for two reasons, both relating to political tactics. One is the issue of framing the options to be set out in the bill, with the idea of a ‘Calman’ or ‘Calman-plus’ option as a way of putting pressure on the Liberal Democrats to support it. The other is timing, and whether it is better for the SNP for the issue to be considered on the floor of the Parliament before or after a Westminster election. Given that general discussion of the issue benefits the SNP, it’s an obvious move to keep the issue alive during and after the UK general election campaign.
For what it’s worth, it’s useful to bear in mind the experience of the Parti Québecois with referendums. As this recent piece from ‘Canada’s national newspaper’ the Globe and Mail shows, not only has the PQ put a referendum on Québecois sovereignty on the back burner for the foreseeable future, but Lucien Bouchard was himself of the view that the party should embrace a two-referendums strategy, to recruit support for sovereignty. The SNP has of course been keen to reject any argument that there should be more than one referendum on this point, and it’s interesting to contrast the view of such a senior Québecois nationalist politician with the position they’ve taken.