Gerry Hassan: The SNP's failure to publish a referendum bill on independence hints at a possible realignment of Scottish politics

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The SNP are driven by one overriding factor, the restoration of Scottish statehood and independence. More than left v right, this is what matters in the party. The SNP government has undertaken a "national conversation" and published a white paper on independence, "Your Scotland, Your Choice". All of this was meant to lead to the publication of the referendum bill yesterday – on Burns Night – and then, if parliamentary votes allowed it, to a public vote. Something strange has happened to this smooth process. The bill was not published on Monday, and has now become subject to indefinite delay.

The SNP wanted a public vote on 30 November – St Andrew's Day – to be specified in the bill. Then Alex Salmond said he was "not absolutely fixed" on that date. The thinking here was that being unspecific about the date would make the bill more about the principle of a vote. And, so the logic goes, this would make it more difficult (or costly) for Labour and Lib Dems to vote the bill down. Both parties are not against the principle of a referendum, just against one now.