Every once in a while I receive telephone calls from various people asking my opinion on something or seeking clarification on some point that I’ve made or to test an idea against my Devil’s Advocacy or just to have a blether about politics. My preferred means of communication is email. But I welcome these calls because I almost always come away from them with a slightly changed perspective. I learn new things or I’m prompted to rethink some aspect of an issue or an entirely fresh line of reasoning is triggered by some part of the exchange.
That is basically what is meant by the first two points in the statement which I’ve adopted as my bio and which I’ve used as the title of this article. The third simply means that I have no cause to be humble about opinions that are derived from reasoned reflection. Nobody does. No opinion that is expressed that should be humble because no opinion that is expressed should have cause to be humble. Nobody should publish a view that they are not prepared to defend. It cannot be other than a deservedly humble opinion if it cannot be defended by the person expressing it.
Altogether too many people don’t understand that respect for the right to express an opinion does not entail a right to respect for the content of that opinion. If it did, then we would be bound to respect some crazy stuff.
I got one of those phone calls this morning. The purpose is not important to this account. What matters is that something in the course of that conversation brought to the fore a thought which I’m certain was loitering at the back of my mind somewhere. I don’t know exactly what the trigger was. It may have been something specific that was said. It may simply be that I was obliged to vocalise my thoughts rather than type them out with my still laborious two-fingered, hunt-and-peck style. Like I say, that’s not what I wanted to share with readers today.
My new thought relates to the 11-point ‘plan’ for a new referendum published by Mike Russell a week ago. More specifically it relates to the fact that the only even marginally interesting thing about this ‘plan’ apart from that Mike Russell clearly drew the short straw when it came to deciding who would present this “numpty fodder”, is that it contains a significant U-turn by Nicola Sturgeon and her government.
Whereas previously they had maintained that the Section 30 process is the only “legal and constitutional” way to hold a referendum, they now insist that it isn’t. Having previously stated – explicitly or implicitly – that they wouldn’t adopt any other approach for fear of a legal challenge they were not prepared to face, they now say that legal challenge is so weak that they are fully confident of beating it.
Nothing else has changed concerning the constitutional and legal standing of the alternatives to the Section 30 process. Nothing at all has changed that might explain this change of position other than that they got it wrong. Which, incidentally, means that people like myself got it right. If you are pledging your loyalty to Nicola Sturgeon on the basis that her approach to the constitutional issue is the correct one, how can you continue to so pledge yourself when she has now admitted to misleading you?
But, of course, that’s how faith works, isn’t it. Faith is not merely belief without evidence. To achieve the status of faith it must be against evidence. The stronger that evidence the greater is the faith that rejects it.
To maintain that a referendum can be legitimate that is authorised by the Scottish Parliament is necessarily to assert the competence of the Scottish Parliament in matters of the constitution. The latter follows from and is bound to the former in an irrefutable and unbreakable logical link. Something that was previously denied by Sturgeon and her government is now held to be true. But leaving aside for the moment this U-turn and its implications for the faith position adopted by so many SNP members, let’s look at the implications for Sturgeon herself.
If, as is now asserted, the Scottish Parliament has the competence to authorise a constitutional referendum then it could quite readily be argued that requesting a Section 30 order constitutes contempt of Parliament. Some might say it amounts to treason. Although I would not wish to put it in those terms myself.
Sturgeon is in even deeper trouble if Boris says yes. Because this would represent her not merely showing contempt for the Scottish Parliament but actually usurping its powers and handing them – in some part at least – to the parliament of another country.
If the Scottish Parliament can rightfully sanction a constitutional referendum then it must. The rightful authority to do so cannot be arbitrarily and unilaterally stripped from the Scottish Parliament to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the British government. The Scottish Parliament’s authority derives from the people who elect it. To discount that authority in favour of a ‘foreign’ parliament deriving its authority from the monarchy and with no democratic legitimacy in Scotland at all, is surely a treasonous act.
Yet further evidence that the 11-point ‘plan’ was not thought through. And that it not being a plan at all, the Scottish Government has none.