Sometimes this blog wonders if it's missed a meeting that everyone else in the Scottish/UK media and blogosphere was at. It's hard to explain in any other way the sudden outpouring of absolutely demented, nonsensical keech that's inexplicably spewed from all corners recently about the SNP planning to hold the independence referendum in June 2014, on the 700th anniversary of the Battle Of Bannockburn.
It's been everywhere this week. The Herald started it a few days ago, the Express reported the "speculation" about it, the Telegraph asserts it as the "favourite" date without citing any source, while the Mail (never knowingly delayed by research) has simply stated it as fact. The Scotsman's deputy editor – who you might reasonably expect to have his finger more on the pulse of Scottish politics – has mocked it on Twitter, while his own paper perpetuates the lie. The Guardian (normally by far the best UK paper at covering Scottish affairs non-idiotically) are at it too*, and even a proper grown-up journalist like the BBC's Andrew Marr repeated it in an interview with David Cameron on Marr's TV show this morning. SNP supporters have fretted about it.
But where has it suddenly come from? The SNP has been (not very) quietly pushing the date of the referendum back for months now, from at least as far back as October 2011 when the party's business convenor Derek MacKay placed it "towards the end of the Parliament", which was uniformly interpreted as meaning at least 2015 or even 2016. Anyone listening to Alex Salmond discuss the subject of late couldn't miss him saying much the same thing, talking of the vote being "well into" the second half of the Parliamentary term and other similar phrases.
The halfway point of this Holyrood session is November 2013. The Bannockburn anniversary is just a few months after that, and it would take some real mental gymnastics for anyone to interpret the SNP leadership's consistent messages about the referendum's timing since the election as pointing to such a conclusion. But more than that, it's simply stark, raving, howling-at-the-moon insane.
Salmond's narrative for at least the last decade has been one of unbroken Anglophilia. Give him the slightest chance and he'll wax lyrical about what a great country England is, how we'll retain the Queen as head of state and how the social union between the nations of the UK will remain intact even if Scotland becomes independent. Scotland and England, as the First Minister recently put it in a perfectly-pitched appearance on The One Show, would still be "the best of friends".
And while the cynical might argue (wrongly, in this blog's view) that such assurances are just the voice of political expediency talking, as the FM attempts to play down how traumatic the break-up of the Union might be, pretty much everyone in Britain – regardless of how bitterly they oppose Salmond's policies – agrees that he's one of the smartest political operators anywhere in these islands.
So what sort of barking-mental nutjob would you need to be to believe Salmond would suddenly decide to hold the independence referendum in a red mist of Braveheart fervour on the anniversary of Bannockburn, perhaps the most emotive and divisive date anyone could possibly conceive between Scotland and England? Such clumsy stupidity would fly openly in the face of a long-standing party leadership policy, which is handily detailed by Paul Hutcheon in this very weekend's Sunday Herald [paywall]:
"SNP thinkers have long tried to avoid linking Scottish independence to centuries-old battles with England. In 2003, Kenny MacAskill, now Justice Secretary, urged the SNP to distance itself from the annual Bannockburn rally, to celebrate the 1314 Scots victory. "Should the rally, with its celebration of victory over the English, remain an accepted part of the SNP's calendar? The answer has to be no", he said."
That the SNP would hold the referendum on the 24th of June 2014 is an idea no less ludicrously, obviously cuckoo than suggesting Salmond had proposed a new Scottish national flag of Wee Jimmy Krankie's face on a tartan backdrop with a haggis fringe, yet here are mature, normally sensible political commentators (and also the Daily Mail) treating it as a serious possibility? Is it just us? Have WE gone mad?
Let's make this absolutely clear. There is not one chance in a thousand of the independence referendum taking place on Bannockburn Day – unless the UK Government completely loses its mind and imposes that date itself, of course. We'll accept a £1000 bet from anyone and everyone, here and now, that the SNP will not propose any such thing at any point. Hell, we'll even pay 10 to 1 on it. Any takers?
* When challenged by this blog and reader Robin_Bruce over the Bannockburn allegation, the Guardian quietly inserted the words "Tories claim" at the front of the sentence, but without adding the customary suffix at the bottom of the article to note that it had been amended. You can see the original version here.