SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has published a white paper today outlining three options for the future of Scotland. Predictably all three opposition parties have rounded on him and accused him of trying to wreck the United Kingdom. That may or may not be so, but surely it would be a good thing to allow the Scots to vote on their own future, rather than the argument dragging on needlessly. The white paper outlines three options:-
1. Stick with the current devolved settlement
2. Enhance devolution by extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in specific areas
3. Full independence
I am disappointed Scottish Conservatives jerked their knees and rejected a referendum on these options out of hand. It is surely difficult to argue that the British people should decide on whether we sign up to a European Constitution, and then say that the Scots should be denied a direct say on their own long term constitutional futures. David Cameron is right to want consistency of policy and consistency of argument. While Scottish Conservatives might feel they have done the right thing to protect the Union, this is a short-termist position.
The best way to protect the union in the long term would be to have a full debate now and end it with a binding referendum. The SNP is in government in Scotland and have a right to put proposals like this on the table. Sure, they didn't get a majority of the votes or the seats, but I think it would be better to let them have their day and allow a public vote. My own view is that the unionist side would be far more likely to win that referendum that the SNP. But I guess we shall now never know.
Of course, if the Scots had their own referendum on independence, that would let the genie out of the bottle for a referendum in England on full devolution and an English Parliament. And that would never do, would it? No wonder the three main parties stick together on this.