Always the showman, Alex Salmond did the unexpected today when he announced that the referendum on Scottish independence would be held on Thursday September 18 2014.
He knew everyone was expecting it to be in October so he chose something different. He knew, we knew: everyone, it seemed, knew, that the events of 2014 have been so carefully planned in the Nationalist calendar that it seemed impossible for the First Minister to choose another date than October.
The 700th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Bannockburn will take place at the end of June 2014. This bout of Nationalist patriotic outpouring will be followed by the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July and August – which will see even more waving of Saltires.
The Ryder Cup is being held at Gleneagles at the end of September 2014 and, while not as strong a Nationalist event as the others, it was expected to be used by the Nationalists to make Scots feel good about themselves and their ability to welcome the world to Scotland.
There were then the more political events of the party conferences, culminating in the SNP conference in early October which – it was assumed – would be the final rallying point for Mr Salmond ahead of the referendum – to be held on or about Thursday October 16.
Except now it won’t be.
Salmond’s decision to go early and opt for a date in mid September means the referendum will take place before the Ryder Cup, before the party conferences and, as such will rob the First Minister of a chance for a final, tub-thumping conference speech just before referendum day.
The choice of September is even more perplexing given the referendum date that was initially given to the Sun on Sunday last year. The first edition of the Sun on Sunday in Scotland led with a very well-sourced story claiming that the referendum would be held on Saturday October 18. It also included a first-person piece by Salmond himself talking about the referendum.
At that time, Salmond was taken with the idea of a Saturday poll but following the consultation exercise, he has moved away from that – partly to make sure he didn’t offend the Jewish community in Scotland.
So we knew it would not be on a Saturday but we still thought it would be in October – after all, wasn’t everything else choreographed to back that up?
Apparently not. Mr Salmond’s decision which he announced in Holyrood this afternoon has changed the dynamic of this debate once again.
However, given his track record, no-one should be surprised if there aren’t one or two more rabbits to be pulled from his rather oversized hat later on.
After all, now that Salmond cannot make that last-ditch conference appeal for votes before the poll, he may decide to bring the SNP conference forward, to early September, just so he can use it as a pre-referendum rally.
Oh, and there was one more reason why we never thought September would be chosen.
Salmond loves his golf. He is already looking forward to his role as host of the Ryder Cup in Scotland between 26 and 28 September 2014. But now that the Ryder Cup follows the independence vote, and doesn’t precede it, what happens if independence is comprehensively defeated and Salmond has no choice but to resign as First Minister as a result? If that happens and Salmond quits on September 19, then he will no longer be able to lap up is role as Ryder Cup host. If that happens, then there is already a suspicion that Salmond would announce his resignation – but making sure that it takes effect a few weeks later.
That way he would still get to fulfil one of his dreams of swanning around Gleneagles with the world’s media watching as the First Minister, even though his other dream of Scottish independence would by then have turned to ashes.Tags: Alex Salmond, Scotland, UK politics