The stupidity of the posturing of David Cameron and the independence referendum

I have argued previously that legislation providing for a referendum on independence falls outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament (see here, here, and here). This view is shared by former Tony Blair aide John McTernan (that link is behind the Scotsman paywall but his views are stressed again in a blog post on the Telegraph website today). Others, not least the estimable Lallands Peat Worrier, take a different view.  At the very least we are agreed that the matter is open for argument. It is not clear that the Scottish Parliament can legitimately pass legislation on the topic.

The one body that – without question – can pass legislation for a referendum on independence is the Westminster Parliament. Alternatively, the Westminster Parliament can pass legislation to amend the scope of the reserved powers in the Scotland Act and explicitly give the power to the Scottish Parliament to call a referendum.

The intervention of David Cameron yesterday is therefore somewhat bizarre. He said, “I will be on that campaign [if there is a referendum] if they ever have the courage to call that referendum on the future of the United Kingdom, but it doesn’t look like they do right now, does it?”

I leave to one side the political dimension covered by Jeff at Better Nation and rotund commentator Brian Taylor. Does the Prime Minister not realise that Holyrood cannot pass a referendum bill? Does the Prime Minister not realise that if he wants someone to have the “courage” to pass a referendum then that is something within his and his government’s power? Does he not think that the posturing in his language will encourage a move for such a referendum  – if he is spoiling for the fight? In posturing for notional political advantage Mr Cameron is leaving the UK government position in relation to the forthcoming Scotland Bill – implementing the Calman proposals – with little room for wriggle. If the SNP put forward an amendment seeking clarification of the law can Cameron present a reasonable argument that the matter should not be passed to Holyrood (if he appears erroneously to believe the power is there already)?

(and why was he not challenged on this? Scotland’s most prominent journalists appear to know even less about the constitutional settlement than our politicians).

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About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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7 Responses to The stupidity of the posturing of David Cameron and the independence referendum

  1. Jeff says:

    I was expecting much more in the popular press on this too. I believe it is a significant development in the independence vs union debate.

    I could be all ‘cybernatty’ and claim that the PM opening the gate for the SNP doesn’t fit with their agenda but, beyond that, I am bemused that it wasn’t picked up on by the Herald or Scotsman at least.

    • The lack of consideration this morning and the poor quality of the discourse about this topic in the media for a long time (with obviously ridiculous arguments given credence (the Order in Council point that started me blogging on this in the first place) and substantive points not made or not considered) never mind the poor quality of the political discourse tells us all we need to know about the country.

  2. johnband says:

    English perspective: David Cameron, as the head of the Conservative & Unionist Party of the United Kingdom, can’t very well call for Scottish independence; but David Cameron, as the head of the Westminster Tory Party, would do very well from Scottish independence (the Tories have an absolute majority in England & Wales, as we all know). If the Scottish Parliament were to call for an independence referendum, that would put DC-as-C&UP-head in a position where he couldn’t do anything other than agree despite crying crocodile tears, thereby helping DC-as-Westminster-Tory-head…

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  4. Actually, Brian Taylor’s blog has today addressed Mr Cameron’s referendum-related posturing. From a political, rather than a legal, perspective, of course.

  5. Actually, Brian Taylor’s blog has today addressed Mr Cameron’s referendum-related posturing. From a political, rather than a legal, perspective, of course.

    (Got the URL wrong in the last one.)

  6. bigrab says:

    Once again you see things from a particularly pertinent perspective where others fail. I always learn something here!

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