Brian Monteith: So why are we waiting, Alex?

First Minister Alex Salmond
First Minister Alex Salmond
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I LOOKED at my phone to check the date yesterday and it reminded me that it was Thursday, August 23. It was an interesting day because a committee of three experts, admittedly put together by the unionist parties, announced they had thought long and hard about the nature of the question required by an independence referendum and had come to a conclusion.

Despite them being called upon by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leadership it would be hard to impugn their objectivity or credentials. At various times the SNP has supported the appointment of these men to various bodies or quoted them in speeches as men of authority and stature to be listened to. One, a Canadian, has been involved in more elections and referenda that Alex Salmond’s had hot curries – and that’s a lot.

The single question they proffered was simple and straightforward enough, asking: “Scotland should become an independent state” with the answer being not a yes or no but “I agree” and “I don’t agree”.

I don’t need to rehearse all the pros and cons of why the question or the way it is answered are worded the way they are – for frankly it doesn’t matter.

After all, the SNP has its own ideas about a question too (remember, it only has a mandate for one question). It doesn’t quite say, “Would you like wee put-upon Scotland to be a free land of milk and honey rather than ruled by that colonial bunch of Tories down south”? But it might as well.

And to help those with impaired thought as well as impaired sight the answer would be printed with a Yes in 48pt type and a No in 12pt braille.

Quite honestly I would have no worries about the question being framed and published that way; for the Scottish public would see through it anyway, and vote the way they were always going to vote.

No, the point is that we now have the two sides with their respective campaigns already launched and their questions at the ready – and that is an advance – all they have to do is negotiate the wording and we can get down to actually asking the people.

Also, this week, we had the Prime Minister indicating he’s willing to meet most of Alex Salmond’s requests about how the referendum should be run, such as allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.

We also found out that Alex Salmond has legal opinion about whether or not Scotland would automatically stay in the European Union, because he had to go to court to avoid releasing the advice to the public.

So let me get this straight; we as good as have a question, Alex 
Salmond’s got an offer from Cameron on the table, Salmond knows about the EU but is yet to tell us, but he has said we will be keeping the Queen, the Pound, oh, and we’ll still be British.

The obvious question then is why are we waiting? What’s to keep us Alex, from having that referendum now?

When Tony Blair was elected with a landslide in June 2007 he quickly announced he would move towards having a referendum for the principle of devolution and it was scheduled for September that year.

Alex Salmond was elected with an overwhelming majority last May and more than a year later we are still waiting.

There really is no reason that we could not have it in October or November of this year, but let’s give the First Minister the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that to get all the necessary legislative permissions through the two parliaments we need to wait until next year. Okay so let’s have it in 2013?

Nope, that’s still too soon, after all it’s before the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and it would also be before Scotland 
hosting the Commonwealth Games. Either occasion just might get us wrapped up in Saltires and thinking “Whae’s like us”. Or so Alex Salmond hopes.

The undeniable truth is that Salmond thinks he will lose a vote on independence and after that his career will be over. The SNP might carry on but Salmond will be the lame duck leader who lost the referendum. Exit stage left.

This is August. The independence debate is dominating Scottish politics. When we get to next August, after another parliamentary session, after your next summer holidays, there will still be another year of it to go.

There’s only so much we can argue about. It was once thought we needed lots of facts and figures so we knew what we might be doing – but since then Alex Salmond has assured us that everything will be alright. He’s seen to it. We’ll have the Queen, we’ll have the pound and we’ll still be British.

Well if it really is that easy, if everything’s so certain what are we waiting for Alex? Go ahead, have your day in the sun. Then can we all move on and get back to the real world of sorting out the nation’s problems like having jobs for our youth and care facilities for our elderly?