Alex Salmond has been accused of attempting to rewrite history after he dismissed as a “collective myth” his promise before the 2014 independence referendum that there would not be a rerun for a generation or even a lifetime.
The former First Minister claimed he had not used the phrase “once in a lifetime” in a 2014 television interview to describe the vote and insisted he had instead said it was the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
However, footage and an official transcript of the interview showed he did use the “once in a lifetime” phrase when asked whether he would pledge not to “bring back another referendum” if the nationalists lost.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr on the Sunday before the September 2014 vote, Mr Salmond said: “In my view this is a once in a generation – perhaps even a once in a lifetime – opportunity.”
– The Telegraph, 19th March 2017
Alex Salmond said “In my view this is a once in a generation – perhaps even a once in a lifetime – opportunity.” Therefore, there should not be another Independence Referendum for a generation, “perhaps” even a lifetime. After all, Alex Salmond said it, therefore it was a “cast-iron promise” which must be upheld:
We already know the SNP is perfectly happy to break the vow to the people of Scotland that the 2014 result would stand for a generation.
But it’s another thing entirely for Mr Salmond to claim he did not actually make this cast-iron promise to voters. The people of Scotland will see through this latest bluster from a man who walked into the poorest communities in Scotland and sold them a lie about the economic case for independence.
– Ian Murray, who has a cheek talking about another party breaking a “vow” to the people of Scotland
Why do people think this is an argument? It’s stupid. It’s utterly, utterly stupid.
Imagine if this logic – “someone made an observation that a thing would not happen, therefore it must not happen, or they’re breaking a promise” – was applied elsewhere.
Les avions sont des jouets intéressants mais n’ont aucune utilité militaire
(Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.)
Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch, attributed 1911, Time: A Traveler’s Guide (1998) by Clifford A. Pickover, p. 249
Ferdinand Foch was the Marshal of France, Great Britain, and Poland, and was the Allied Supreme Allied Commander in the final year of the First World War. The French Army never used in military applications in the First World War, or ever again; certainly no airplanes especially designed for warfare have been developed for the French Armed Forces. And Foch did not have a French military aircraft carrier named after him.
After all, Ferdinand Foch made a promise.
The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ‘… We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’
– Neville Chamberlain, 30th September 1938
As we all know, the Prime Minister kept to his word. Even when Hitler reneged on the Czechoslovakian settlement, Chamberlain did not declare war, for he promised “peace for our time.” Nor did he declare war upon Germany following their invasion of Poland, for the document he signed was “the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace.” He didn’t even resist as Operation Sea Lion commenced, as he vowed to uphold “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.” Above all, it would be ridiculous to follow a conflict called The War To End War with another war, wouldn’t it?
After all, Neville Chamberlain made a promise.
Man, is inherently an earthly creature, and only his scientific imagination will ever make him a planetary emigrant… But I am much more conservative in my estimate of innerspace flight. True, this year may become known as the year of the first man-made planet – the tiny artificial satellite. But to place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon, where the passenger can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth – all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am old enough to say that such a man-made moon voyage will never occur regardless of all future scientific advances.
– Dr Lee De Forest, Lewiston Morning Tribune, 25th February 1957
As the inventor of the triode vacuum tube – which made long-distance phone calls, television, film, and radio possible – and 180 other patents, Dr De Forest has been called the “Father of Electronics.” If he says something won’t happen “regardless of all future scientific advances,” then they clearly won’t happen. There have been no manned missions into outer space in the 70 years since De Forest’s promise, let alone manned missions to the moon, habitable space stations, or other such fanciful notions.
After all, Dr Lee De Forest made a promise.
I don’t think there will be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime… I would not wish to be Prime Minister, dear. I have not enough experience for that job. The only full ministerial position I’ve held is Minister of Education and Science. Before you could even think of being Prime Minister, you’d need to have done a good deal more jobs than that.
– Margaret Thatcher, Val meets the VIPs, March 5th 1973
Margaret Thatcher remained Minister of Education and Science, the only ministerial position she would ever hold. She did not challenge Edward Heath for leadership of her party less than two years after the interview, and thus, did not contest the 1979 General Election with the hopes of becoming Prime Minister – after all, she did not yet have “enough experience” or “done a good deal more jobs.” The UK never had a woman Prime Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s entire lifetime.
After all, Margaret Thatcher made a promise.
“There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.”
– Steve Chen, co-founder of Youtube, March 2005
Today, Youtube is an obscure website with only the 50 videos Steve Chen wants to watch. It certainly wasn’t purchased for $1.65 billion by Google less than two years and 100 million videos later, and is definitely not one of the most popular media platforms on the planet.
After all, Steve Chen made a promise.
I could go on, but you get the point – times change. Events happen. Binding yourself to statements made before monumental, historic events is ludicrous. That applies to referendums as much as it applies to any other aspect of life. This is why the SNP included the provision for an Independence Referendum in the event of a material change in circumstances such as the UK voting to leave the EU while Scotland voted Remain – because unlike other parties, the SNP recognise that when the world changes, you change with it. The other parties’ entire “once in a generation/lifetime” argument is entirely reliant on the notion that absolutely nothing has changed since the 19th of September 2014 – for if nothing has changed, then nothing can justify an earlier second independence referendum, can it?
It’s a shame, because if the change had been what Better Together pledged, then we might not be in this situation at all. Do you really propose this would be happening if we actually got the Devomax, Home Rule, or Near-Federalism that was promised by the three largest (at the time) UK parties? Do you truly think the SNP would have anywhere near the support they do if their voters had any belief in those other parties actually delivering what they pledged? Do you actually believe a referendum would be proposed for 2018 if the entire UK voted to Remain in the EU?
Here’s the sequence of events.
- 21st August 2014: Purdah period for the Scottish Independence Referendum begins.
- 2nd September 2014: Better Together tweets an assurance that voting Yes will mean leaving the EU.
- 7th September 2014: Then-Chancellor George Osborne announces a timetable for further powers will be published.
- 8th September 2014: Gordon Brown announces his now infamous pledge for “nothing less than a modern form of Home Rule.”
- 9th September 2014: Jackie Bird describes the proposals as “Devomax” to Alistair Darling, who seems to affirm that description.
- 14th September 2014: Alex Salmond issues his “once in a generation/lifetime” statement.
- 15th September 2014: “The Vow” is published.
- 18th September 2014: the Scottish Independence Referendum.
- 19th September 2014: David Cameron announces his plans for English Votes for English Laws.
- 15th August 2014: Gordon Brown describes the proposals as “as close to a federal state as you can be.”
- October-November 2014: the Other Party forces the Smith Commission several powers from the proposals, and rejects powers suggested by the SNP and Scottish Greens.
- 15th April 2015: the future UK Government Party puts English Votes for English Laws into its manifesto.
- 15th June 2015: the first five words of The Vow are officially broken when the UK Parliament votes against an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would make the Scottish Parliament permanent.
- 24th March 2016: the Scotland Bill 2016 is passed. Every single amendment proposed by parties other than the UK Government’s – representing 80% of the electorate in Scotland – is rejected.
- 23rd June 2016: England & Wales vote to leave the European Union. Scotland & Northern Ireland vote to remain. The UK Government declares that the entire UK would leave the EU.
According to the official results, the champions of Devomax, Home Rule, & Near Federalism won the 2014 referendum. Therefore, they were the ones who had to fulfil the promises they made in order to win. They did not – as evidenced by the multiple attempts to bring Devomax, Home Rule, & Near Federalism after they claimed had already been delivered. Even if the critics were correct, that Alex Salmond & Nicola Sturgeon signed some sacred pact (a “vow,” if you will) never to threaten another referendum if it ended up being a No vote, why would you honour a pact that had already been broken by the other signatories?
David Cameron and Alistair Darling signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which set out purdah: by promoting Brown’s proposals, an argument could be made that they broke purdah, and thus, the Edinburgh Agreement. If that wasn’t enough to break Purdah, then the Vow – also signed by David Clegg and Ed Miliband – surely was. And then, after the referendum, the other parties voted against anything and everything the SNP proposed, no matter how inconsequential it seemed. They couldn’t have done a better job of ripping up their own pledge, and as a result, the SNP and Scottish Greens have flourished.
“The SNP promised it would be once in a lifetime: a second independence referendum is breaking that promise.” . Sound and fury, signifying nothing. It says nothing of the broken vow. It says nothing of the material change of circumstances. It says nothing of their regular dismissal, frustration, and denial of a devolved Parliament they claim to be “the most powerful” in the world. It says nothing of their refusal to consider any of the Scottish Government’s proposals for Scotland, even as they demand the SNP work with them to get “the best deal for Scotland.” It says nothing of the macro-political maelstrom we find our world in.
And when the maelstrom hits us after the 29th of March 2016, the people of Scotland will remember who offered them a way out, and who fought to keep us in.