Where’s the mention?

Below is a video clip of Angus Brendan MacNeil grilling Boris Johnson on the matter of a Section 30 order. I haven’t counted the number of times Johnson refers to there having been an agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” event. However many it was that number must be added to the many hundreds – indeed thousands o occasions on which British Nationalists have promoted the same lie.

Below that is the text of the Edinburgh Agreement which set out the terms agreed between Alex Salmond and David Cameron, then First Minister of Scotland and British Prime Minister respectively. Accompanying the text is a link to the the official record of the Edinburgh Agreement and attached memorandum.

If anybody can find the phrase “once in a generation” anywhere in the Edinburgh Agreement or in any other legal document relating to the 2014 referendum, I will close down this blog and abandon the independence campaign forever.

Of course, everybody by now knows that Johnson’s claim is an outright lie. Everybody including those who still peddle this puerile falsehood. The lie has been exposed and the claim rebutted countless times. So why am I doing so again?

I’m revisiting this topic because almost the entire debate around this has been concerned with whether there ever was such an undertaking by the Scottish Government – there wasn’t! – and the question of how long a generation is – it doesn’t matter! The argument about how many years constitute a generation is totally pointless in this context for the same reason as the argument about whether there was such an undertaking is irrelevant.

Even if Alex Salmond had promised that there would not be another referendum for a generation, that promise would have been utterly meaningless. Because no politician has the authority to place limits, constraints or conditions on the right of self-determination. The people decide when there must be a referendum. Referendums happen when the people demand them. So it doesn’t mater a toss whether the undertaking was made or whether a generation is four years or forty. If the people insist on a referendum then it bloody well better happen or the government is in serious trouble – as Nicola Sturgeon is discovering.

This matter was brought to mind yesterday when I heard a speaker at the AUOB Rally at Pacific Quay refer to the Good Friday Agreement and the fact that it defines the minimum period between referendums as seven years – although there is no mention of “a generation”. But let’s take a look at what it actually says.

The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.

The Agreement

That reads to me as the Secretary of State promising to refuse an Order in Council exactly as Boris Johnson and his predecessor resort(ed) to Section 30 as a ploy to obstruct a democratic process which by rights should be entirely controlled in Scotland. There’s a bit of text missing. It should read,

The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule regardless of what the people want.

Whatever the speaker in question imagines, the text of the Good Friday mean agreement does not relate to Scotland’s right of self-determination; does not define a political generation any more than Alex Salmond did when subsequently quizzed about it; and can no more impose a restriction on the right of self-determination than any other politicians’ utterance. The people decide! we decide!

The role of the First Minister in all of this is to make a judgement as to when demand is sufficient. This will vary according to the issue. But it is important to recognise that evidence of majority support is not a prerequisite. Opinion polls may inform political decisions. But they do not make those decisions. In principle, Nicola Sturgeon would have been perfectly justified in calling a referendum at any time in the past six years. It might well be argued that under cover of successive snubs from the British Prime Minister of the day, she has been resisting public demand for a referendum. What is certain is that, at any time when there is significant demand, it is for the First Minister to explain why she is not calling a referendum. When ‘significant’ becomes ‘majority’ she better have a bloody good excuse for not honouring the will of the people.

Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland.

The United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government have agreed to work together to ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence can take place.

The governments have agreed that the referendum should:

  • have a clear legal base;
  • be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament:
  • be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, government and people; and
  • deliver a fair test and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.

The governments have agreed to promote an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 in the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments to allow a single question referendum on Scottish independence to be held before the end of 2014. The Order will put beyond doubt that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for the referendum.

It will then be for the Scottish Government to promote legislation in the Scottish Parliament for a referendum on independence. The governments are agreed that the referendum should meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety, informed by consultation and independent expert advice. The referendum legislation will set out:

  • the date of the referendum;the franchise;
  • the wording of the question;
  • rules on campaign financing; and
  • other rules for the conduct of the referendum.

The details of the agreement between the governments are set out in the following memorandum and draft Order, which forms part of this agreement.


The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP Prime Minister

The Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP First Minister of Scotland

The Rt. Hon. Michael Moore MP Secretary of State for Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon MSP Deputy First Minister of Scotland

Edinburgh, 15 October 2012

Full text including memorandum

4 thoughts on “Where’s the mention?

  1. I get real angry when I hear these barefaced lying traitors to this country come out with this “Once in Generation” mush.
    There was no commitment, no promise. The commitments, and the promises made to Scotland were we wouldn’t be taken out of EU via England.
    We had that failed ex Scottish politician Malcolm Rifkand on NewsNight last night. He again made that false claim knowing it to be so, there was a commitment for “a Once in Generation”.
    He also compared Scotland with London City, in that London also voted to say in EU, it was just Scotland!
    Well now, there is a big difference between a city within a country, and an actual country.
    Scotland is a country. And Scotland is, we were told anyhow, “an Equal Partner in the Union”.
    Now we know or rather we knew, that was also a lie. But they said it, so we should hold them to it.

    I was disappointed in former SNP MP Stephen Gethins, on same NewsNight program with Rifkand, as he didn’t refute the “Once in Generation” lie. He didn’t rebuke Rifkand daring to compare an entire country, with a city in England.
    He also didn’t answer the point put to him about when there should be another Independence vote.
    I was not impressed with him to be honest.

    This “Generation” thing has been allowed to get too far by SNP politicians, and the tories and others love to mention it at every turn, as tho it were set in stone, that must never ever be violated, while dismissing out of hand their many broken promises, “vows”, and pledges.
    And Media haven’t helped much either, but guess we cant be too surprised there.

    Regards this “Once in Generation” stuff, some of us criticized the use of the line back in 2014.
    How the SNP leadership of the day couldn’t see the dangers of using a phrase the pro 1707s would manipulate, makes me wonder.
    But it is also clear when Salmond used it near the end, he was giving it out as a stark warning to those who thought not to vote YES, but and wait and see.
    He was basically warning, we might not get that chance in long time. The pro London lot would do everything to stop it, and so it turns out to be.
    But we also expect SNP of today to bypass London. And their present strategy is going nowhere, and if they keep with it, will be seen as an outright betrayal of Scotland by the very Party we voted in, to get us Independence.
    For SNP to avoid that, it must change course real fast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I well remember how I winced the first time I encountered that “once in a generation/lifetime” line. And every time thereafter. I’ve frequently had cause to wonder at the clumsy use of language by many SNP politicians. Even Alex Salmond, who you’d expect to know better. Where are the media advisers who are supposed to filter out these ‘unfortunate’ terms and references?

      I might sympathise with Stephen Gethins were it not for the fact that he’s hardly new to media appearances. I know what it’s like to walk away from an interview with a head suddenly filled with things you should have said. He should have been prepared by his advisers. It’s not as if Rifkind was hitting them with something out of the blue. British Nationalists have obviously been told to pound the “once in a generation thing”. They’re all at it.

      In a way, that’s the problem. The politicians are given their lines and told to stick to them. That’s why the have to be so adept at not answering the question asked. They answer the question they’ve been primed to answer. The best of them can change the subject without you even noticing they’ve done it. It’s also why, when there are two or more politicians they rarely interact in any meaningful way. They don’t respond to what’s been said. They just mouth the lines they’ve been given. The result is often a horribly disjointed mess. With the interviewer attempting to stitch together the bits.


      1. Sadly, the expression was the second sentence in the fourth paragraph of the foreward of “Scotland’s Future”, published on 26 Nov 2013. Couldn’t believe that got through the process of producing such an important paper! That said, it remains a phrase which is open to interpretation and cannot bind the populace to some unidentified timeframe for action.


  2. Correction to above…

    The line “it was just Scotland” ,should have been, “It wasn’t just Scotland,.(that voted to stay in EU),…. etc.


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