Opinion: Scottish reshuffle and the independence referendum

In amongst the fall-out from the reshuffle last week at Number 10, another reshuffle was somewhat lost in the news. In Scotland, Alex Salmond decided it was time to change things around a bit in Bute House – though unlike David Cameron, it was more a case of rearranging the deckchairs than bringing in new furniture.

The only departure of note was Bruce Cameron, along with two junior ministers, and in all those cases it was for genuine personal reasons. However, the big change was the move of Nicola Sturgeon – Deputy First Minister – from Health to take charge of the independence referendum arrangements.

It has to be said, Nicola Sturgeon has done a pretty good job in health. But moving her to this new post sends a signal of the Scottish Government’s real priorities. By moving his most senior minister and deputy leader from health – probably the biggest department in Scotland by far, given our multitude of health problems – Salmond is sending the message that he is prioritising independence over everything else.

In addition, this new department means that there’s more civil servants needed – at additional cost to the Scottish budget. When Salmond was questioned on this by Willie Rennie in the Scottish Parliament, he simply refused to answer – or he simply didn’t know.

This pattern is repeated every week when Salmond is asked direct questions about the referendum – he blusters, he blows, he lashes out at the questioner, but he never answers the point. Sometimes, he just refuses – as with the Scottish Government’s refusal to comply with the Information Commissioner’s order to release information relating to Scotland’s position in the EU if it were to become independent.

In order for the Scottish people to make a full, proper and educated decision on independence, we need this kind of question to be answered. And, to be fair, this should be the case for both sides of the argument. I’m pretty confident that, at least, the Better Together campaign will be truthful and honest in its approach – I can only hope that the SNP campaign will change its tack and try to be more honest and constructive in the coming months than it has been in previous years.

*ducks to avoid the incoming missiles from the Cybernats…*

* Keith Legg is a former councillor and activist in Fife, who moved with his family to teach in an international school in Cairo in August. The views above are written in a personal capacity.

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  • cynicalHighlander 10th Sep '12 - 6:59pm

    at least, the Better Together campaign will be truthful and honest in its approach

    Can you find all of those 270 embassies claimed by yourselves as the highest anyone has come up with so far is 104 .

    Asking for honesty from a LibDem tuition fees, privatising the health service, federalism etc you are having a larf only the poor aren’t as they go hungry.

  • @cynicalHighlander, thank you for proving the point I made in the last paragraph so eloquently!

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to on the embassies point – and I don’t know who said it either – but a very quick Google search suggests there are around that in London. If Scotland were to follow that lead, it goes without saying that there’d be a need for the same number of embassies.

  • cynicalHighlander 10th Sep '12 - 9:22pm

    @cynicalHighlander, thank you for proving the point I made in the last paragraph so eloquently!

    Deliberately as honesty/integrity and the Libdems don’t equate. Your parties hatred of the SNP is just the same as Labours and thankfully the people of Scotland are waking up to how they have been duped for years in all talk and no substance. The Crown Estates which your have campaigned on for decades be repatriated to Scotland and when you could of done it No because the SNP are in power.

    It was on your ‘Better Together’ leaflet which your party where handing out in that Blitz weekend you had which seems to have gone off like a damp squib and what that has to do with other countries embassies in that tax haven in the City of London beggars belief.

    Thanks for responding which is an unusual occurrence by the authors on this site.

  • “Sometimes, he just refuses – as with the Scottish Government’s refusal to comply with the Information Commissioner’s order to release information relating to Scotland’s position in the EU if it were to become independent.”

    The Information Commissioner’s order has been for the Scottish Government to confirm or deny whether or not it has legal advice on an independent Scotland’s EU membership not that it must release the content of that information. Decison Notice 111/2012

    Perhaps as the Lib-Dems are in Government you should phone Clegg, Cable and Alexander and get them to confirm or deny whether the Westminster Government has had legal advice on an independent Scotland’s EU membership as the Lib-Dem Tory coalition has point blank refused to release that information under a Freedom of Information request. The story is here. http://stephennoon.blogspot.co.uk/2011_11_01_archive.html

    Pot calling kettle black here is all I can say.

  • It is interesting to note the increase in the number of Whitehall civil servants being recruited to work for the tory-led no campaign. Along with the growth in the number of staff in Dover House, other departments are getting in on the act too including a £50,000+ anti-independence spin doctor at the treasury – a role which will cease to exist after the referendum.

    Interesting that the presence of Nicola Sturgeon is taken to indicate the priorities of the Scottish Government. It is hard to imagine a female minister in the Westminster Old-Boy network cabinet ever having the same significance that is attached to Nicola Sturgeon.

    As for a full and educated debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, that would be the same full and educated debate that SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) wanted to have when Willie Rennie called for the resignation of its chairman. That would be the same full and educated debate that Michael Moore wants to cut short by having the referendum before 2014.

    Remember there are those of us in this party (Lib Dems) that see the great opportunity that independence offers to bring about a more liberal society in Scotland compared to staying in a UK that has shown itself to be both illiberal in instinct and unreformable in practice.

  • aye.

    Here come the cybernats….

    3 years for a *full* debate (it won’t be). It took Dewar (10 times the man that Salmond will ever be) about 500 days to get legislation through Parliament; set up the elections in Scotland and then see it through to a conclusion. Perhaps the Dalek wants to take his time, try and get as many questions on the paper as he wishes,,,,whilst the rest of the UK would like to move on with life.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Sep '12 - 10:14pm

    DougtheDug – With respect (and at, I suspect the high risk of being shouted at) isn’t your post and that link of yours just a problem with the FoI Act. The idea that legal advice should be subject to FoI is plainly ridiculous, I can’t believe I have to sit here and express that in prose. I don’t care if it is the SNP, the Coalition or anyone else. Legal advice should very obviously be private whomever it is given to. There is no public interest in undermining legal advice as frank and private advice – it should be a blanket exemption. Granted, if political parties want to start using FoI and the (possible) existance of legal advice for politcal purposes that is not the Commissioner’s fault, though he should have sent everyone away with a flea in their collective ear.

    And, of course if you want legal advice it is information that is open to you by another route – go to the law department of your university and commission your own and publish it if you so wish.

    I’m not making any value judgment here by the way on Scottish independence. For me if they wish to go their own way, good for them. It they wish to stay in the Union, then that’s great. But instead of having a big argument about who complies with FoI and who doesn’t , why can’t we debate the actual merits of the issue at hand?

    There is actually a very interesting argument to be had on defence in particular http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmdfence/c483-i/c48301.htm

  • Little Jackie Paper:
    I would agree with you that it is a problem with the FOI Act and legal advice should remain confidential but under the law as it stands the Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew ( a she not a he), has ordered the Scottish Government to release the information on whether or not it has taken legal advice.

    However what I find annoying is that the Lib-Dems in Scotland are castigating Alex Salmond for not releasing information on whether or not he has had legal advice on Scotland’s future membership of the EU while as part of the coalition in Westminster they refuse to release whether or not they have received legal advice on the very same subject.

    An obvious case of double standards.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    You mean the non-hatred of Lib-Dems like the Scottish Lib-Dem Leader Willie Rennie who put this picture about Alex Salmond up on his facebook page?


  • Little Jacky Paper 10th Sep '12 - 11:12pm

    DougtheDug – It might or might not be a case of double standards. The point is that if you feel a sense of pique over an FoI matter you have recourse. It is an administrative issue, albeit stemming from a flaw in FoI. It is not an argument for or against anything in terms of independence is it?

    And, of course, you can commission legal advice at your leisure. If you are lucky your university department might chip in on the costs.

    Don’t get me wrong here, as I said earlier, I make no value judgment on the question of independence – insofar as it is actually any of my business all I can say is I am not altogether bowled over by anyone’s argument so far. It just would be nice to hear some arguments rather than what seems to me to be a political-partizan gripe.

  • Little Jacky Paper:
    I’m not sure where you’re going with this discussion. Keith Legg above accuses Alex Salmond of not releasing information when the Lib-Dems in Government in Westminster are doing exactly the same thing about exactly the same subject.

    I haven’t used this fact either for or against the case for independence.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    The picture wasn’t put up by some “kid” it was put up by the leader of the Scottish Lib-Dems and he only took it down because of the media storm not because he changed his mind.

    All that picture did was show up Willie Rennie as someone who has no judgment and a visceral dislike of the SNP and It did Alex Salmond no harm whatsoever.

    Interestingly enough I never described either myself or other Scots as victims but pointing out Willie Rennie’s failings and dislike of the SNP appear to have triggered a shoot the messenger response from you rather than responding to the actual substance of the comment.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    The picture went out on the Scottish LIb-Dems main twitter feed and went up on Willie Rennie’s facebook page. Nobody ever admitted to it and nobody ever got fired for it but a big boy did it and ran away. Aye right.

    They probably didn’t highlight that particular news item because Alex Salmond’s letter had been published in August 2010 on the Scottish Government website under an FOI request and it was old news in Scotland by the time Willie put his picture up. Nobody really cared about it anyway. It took 17 months before the metropolitan press found it and called it a scoop.

  • @DougtheDug – FWIW I actually thought that picture was in pretty poor taste and said so privately, as I know several others did. I also know Willie well enough that he personally wouldn’t put that picture up, and I’m pretty sure that most SNP senior activists in Fife would agree with that.

    The comments here, though, and elsewhere don’t really fill me with any hope of actually having a constructive debate about independence. There’s suspicion on both sides, probably made worse by behavior of both sides – for example, the refusal of the Scottish Government to confirm or deny they’ve had legal advice is seen as meaning that they’ve had it but don’t agree with it, because if it supported the SNP view Salmond would have used it by now.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    The SNP blame the Conservatives who started the financial deregulation and Labour who were eager followers of the policy and who were also at the helm when everything collapsed but since Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are Scots I’m not sure how that is blaming the English. Alex Salmond saying that he hopes the RBS and its bid is a success and can he do anything to help is probably fairly low in the causes of the banking collapse. Did you actually read the letter?

    The Scottish Government is currently run by the SNP and lives off a block grant given and set by Westminster. The SNP hasn’t and never has had any control over the British financial system and the regulatory system which controls it so I’m not sure why you believe that the SNP is responsible for the cuts in the block grant caused by the banking collapse . The cuts in Scotland are caused by the Lib-Dem/Tory coalition cutting public spending in England and passing the cuts on via the Barnett formula calculated block grant.

    Scotland will use the pound in the first years after independence while things settle down before a decision is made to either join the Euro or to start its own petro-currency. It’s SNP policy. I don’t find that obfuscated at all.

  • Keith Legg:

    Thanks for responding Keith. If Willie didn’t put the pictures up that just leaves senior Lib-Dems in charge of both the official twitter feed for the Scottish Lib-Dems and the leader’s facebook pages. I don’t think they’d put up anything that they thought Willie would disagree with so what kind of atmosphere is there inside the Scottish Lib-Dem headquarters? As I said nobody got fired and nobody put their hand up so it looks like it was done with some degree of official sanction from the top.

    If I rewrite part of your comment because the Lib-Dem coalition has also refused when asked via an FOI enquiry whether they also have had legal advice on Scotland’s status within the EU as an independent nation.

    There’s suspicion on both sides, probably made worse by behavior of both sides – for example, the refusal of the Westminster Government to confirm or deny they’ve had legal advice is seen as meaning that they’ve had it but don’t agree with it, because if it supported the coalition view Cameron and Clegg would have used it by now.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    “You can’t run separate countries on the same currency.”

    You certainly can, especially when it’s only for the short term. When it comes to splitting the UK’s debts and assets it will make much more sense to to that if both new countries are using the same currency. Remember the Bank of England is the UK’s central bank and when the UK splits Scotland will have as much right to the pound as England and the rest.

    “The records show that Alex Salmond himself is directly implicated in the collapse of RBS”

    What records are you talking about? If you mean records like the FSA report into the collapse of RBS, “Financial Services Authority Board Report, The failure of the Royal Bank of Scotland, December 2011”? then I’m afraid to say Alex Salmond’s name fails to appear as the evil financial genius who hypnotized the RBS board into making a purchase with almost no due diligence on ABN Amro’s finances or as an evil éminence grise advising and controlling Fred Goodwin while stroking his white cat.

    Please Rebecca, one letter saying good luck with the bid and anything I can do. The phrases mountain out of a molehill and clutching at straws apply here.

  • Rebecca Hanson:

    Look it up on Google or watch the documentary are always code words for, “I’ve run out of arguments so look them up for me”, so it appears this thread has run its course.

    If you’re a typical Lib-Dem it’s been interesting to see the ideas behind your arguments. From nationalism in Scotland is based on grudge, grievance and victimhood, to the SNP is in some way culpable for the banking crisis and the cuts in the Scottish block grant onwards to the SNP blames the English for everything and that Alex Salmond was a major player in the fall of RBS.

    A bit of a full house really.

  • “I understand you can’t be bothered to research the collapse of RBS”

    I have read quite extensively on the collapse of RBS and the banking collapse in general and the poisonous mix of dud mortgages bundled into triple A rated “financial instruments” and very creative accounting that sits at the base of it all. That’s why citing Alex Salmond as a major player in the collapse of RBS just makes me laugh.

  • @Rebecca Hanson

    I am afraid your attempt to link the Alex Salmond letter to the RBS crisis is desperate in the extreme! The reasons for the ABN take-over and the sequence of events are well recorded and the letter from the First Minister is not amongst them.

    On a shared currency, yes it can work where there is a convergence of economic conditions. The problem of the Euro has been the yoking of such disparate economies as Germany and Greece together in the same currency. As a step towards full economic and fiscal independence it makes a lot of sense.

    I have to agree with DougtheDug that your comments, unintentionally I am sure, do reveal a somewaht condescending attitude to Scotland and independence.

  • @Keith Legg

    It might help to state the facts, well, factually. Nicola Sturgeon is Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities and has additional responsibilities relating to the referendum. Given the economic shambles being visited upon Scotland by your Coalition Govt in London, those responsibilities seem just as important to me as the health portfolio.

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