In a bid, no doubt, to try and derail the SNP’s burgeoning popularity, The Leaders of the three Unionist parties in Scotland have issued a joint statement on the issue of a Scottish Referendum on Independence. Sadly this will not end the matter as Alex Salmond is not going to take ‘no’ for an answer and, believing himself and his party to be riding the crest of a wave, he will press ahead. This is the statement:

The Scottish Parliament Party Leaders of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats: Joint Statement, Monday 13 August 2007

“In May the people of Scotland voted for a range of political parties none of which command majority support. The parties we represent – together representing 65% of voters in Scotland – believe that Scotland as a whole, and individual Scots, have the best chance of success and progress inside the United Kingdom. We therefore regret the fact that the minority SNP administration, representing less than a third of Scottish voters, will tomorrow publish a White Paper which is designed to further their party’s central objective to take Scotland outside the United Kingdom.

The SNP is squandering taxpayers’ money in pursuit of their own narrow and failed agenda. They have promised to build a consensus around the policies they will bring forward for debate in the Scottish parliament. But this white paper can only create division and uncertainty which will damage Scotland.

The SNP have spoken about a national conversation but tomorrow’s publication is about their nationalist crusade. We will listen, but we fear this will be less of a conversation than a one-way megaphone. We are deeply concerned that the proposals to be made by the SNP are only designed to drag the people of Scotland into a constitutional cul-de-sac. We will not give succour to those who want to end the Union.

Their objective is to end the United Kingdom whilst our parties want to see devolution succeed inside the United Kingdom. Our parties have differing views on how to reform, maintain, and strengthen the Union, but none of us want to see it ended. Reforming the Union is in conflict with ending the Union, so there can be no consensus around a minority obsession that will do great damage to Scotland.

In the months to come we will consider how best the interests of the people of Scotland can be served. Though we disagree about the means to achieve it, good governance and basic priorities should come first for Scottish Ministers. Sadly, tomorrow’s White Paper signals that the constitutional debate, and staging squabbles with Westminster, are the priority of the current minority administration.

We regret the fact that these divisive proposals were brought forward during the recess rather than when Parliament was sitting. We are willing to enter into debate jointly about the way in which devolution within the UK can best develop in the years to come and we believe that colleagues in Westminster have a role to play in that debate.

Before the Scottish Parliament reconvenes we will discuss together the best way to take forward this debate.”

Jack McConnell MSP, Annabelle Goldie MSP, Nicol Stephen MSP

Although there is, I suppose, strict logic in their position, in that if you do not believe in independence, then how can you believe in a referendum but that, I fear, does not take account of the potent politics of the matter, particularly at a moment when the SNP is riding high in Scottish Opinion Polls.

Calling for a Referendum on Independence to be held as soon as possible (say by the end of 2008) would make it almost impossible for GB to have a general election whilst the campaign for the referendum is tearing his political heartland apart on the issue, given the state of polls in Scotland.

In addition if a GE is held now or in the spring Alex Salmond can use it as a referendum on a referendum, saying to the voters “it is right we have this debated now, but the other three parties will not play ball”. He might well find that his commitment to hold such a referendum enhances his already good polls in contrast to GB’s dishonourable and deceitful refusal to hold an EU Referendum.

If, as most believe, the Referendum says ‘no’ to independence, the Nationalist fox will have been well and truly shot (sorry, subjected to ‘exempt hunting’); if it says ‘yes’ then GB is in heap big trouble.

What do the Tories have to lose by that?

They complain of a one way conversation by way of megaphone: but perhaps they miss a trick here in that they may well be seen as lacking the courage of their convictions and are afraid of a Referendum. Instead they too should be out there making the case against Independence, It is not going to go away.

I am also troubled by the unhappy spectacle of the Conservative party ganging up with such obnoxious chums as Scottish Labour and the LibDems to put the kybosh on a referendum. I think it a bad mistake and the voters will punish us accordingly.

We aspire as a party ourselves to a referendum on our status in and relationship to the EU: is it not utterly hypocritical to say to Scotland that they cannot have one on their status in and relationship to the Union?