A 'Scots Independent' column from a few months ago on the possibility of another Independence Referendum, and just what constitutes a 'generation' in other parts of the UK. Self-serving humbug masquerading as high principle from Theresa May? Surely not...
In referendum terms, exactly how long is a generation? Who exactly has the moral and political authority to hold another Independence referendum? And when exactly does a government become bound by the outcome? The answers it seems, if you view matters from a unionist perspective, are whatever happens to be convenient for you at the time.
The question arises - as if anyone needs reminding - thanks to the decision of voters in the rest of the UK to vote to leave the EU against the wishes of the majority of Scottish voters. This, of course, triggers the SNP manifesto commitment that Holyrood should have the right to hold another Independence vote should there be a "significant and material" change in circumstances.
So, let's deal with this tedious argument about an independence referendum being a 'once in a generation' event. Bluntly, at the last Holyrood election Scotland's political parties were every bit as free to seek a mandate for a further independence vote as were the electorate to deny it. Ruth, Kezia and Willie can make as much of a song and dance about it as they like - the fact is the electorate returned a majority of independence supporting MSPs. If a referendum bill is presented, it will not fail on account of a lack of votes in the chamber.
Westminster has legislated for quite a few referendums in recent years, so given the noise coming from Unionist politicians about any Scottish vote being 'once in a generation', you might think that given the chance, they would have taken the opportunity to make sure that a similar restriction applied to other votes. If you do, you'd be mistaken.
Let's go back to 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act, significant for setting out the democratic process under which Northern Ireland could leave the UK and join the Republic if enough people voted to do so in a referendum. Schedule 1 of the Act makes it clear that the Secretary of State can direct the holding of a referendum, but shall not do so “earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll.”
So if a 'generation' in Northern Ireland is only 7 years, how long is it in Wales? The 2006 Government of Wales Act made provision to hold a referendum on whether the Welsh Assembly should be given primary legislative powers. Section 103 of the Act stated that if a majority of voters did not vote in favour, this would not prevent the holding of another referendum. Crucially, no time restriction on doing so was specified in the Act. In other words, the Westminster Government could keep coming back as often as it liked until it got the answer it wanted.
Since that leaves the 'generation' argument slain, let's return to the argument that the Scottish Parliament doesn't have the authority to legislate for a referendum on the grounds that the constitution is 'reserved' to Westminster. In doing so, let's also consider the fact that even although the UK voted for Brexit, this has not of itself triggered 'Article 50', which would begin the UK's process of negotiating departure from the EU.
The referendums provided for under the Northern Ireland Act and the Government of Wales Act both require and required Westminster to legislate in order to give effect to implementing the wishes of voters. That's because referendums – even those organised under the limitless sovereignty of Westminster – still need the Westminster Government to agree to implement the desired outcome.
Which is why any argument surrounding the supposed lack of competence of Holyrood to hold a similar consultative referendum on Independence should be treated with great suspicion. The Edinburgh Agreement - in which the Westminster Government agreed to legislate for an Independence referendum last time round – removed the threat of any legal challenge to a Holyrood organised vote. It didn't mean that Holyrood lacked the power to do this for itself – it simply meant that the point was never tested.
A referendum on Scottish Independence which resulted in a vote for independence, whether it was legislated for in Westminster or Holyrood, would still require Westminster to legislate to give effect to that Independence – something which everyone agrees Westminster has the legal competence to do. Therefore, since all referendums are consultative; a consultative referendum of itself changes nothing; and independence could only come about if Westminster were to agree to vote to make it so, just how can it be said to be beyond the powers of Holyrood to hold such a vote?
It would be easier for Westminster to make a repeat of the Edinburgh Agreement provisions again should they be required. However, if Holyrood has to go it alone on this, the Brexit impasse, together with the Welsh and Northern Irish examples gives the clearest and most convincing case possible as to why Holyrood should also be assumed to have the legal and moral authority to legislate for as many Independence referendums as the voters are prepared to give licence for.