Watson: How can MacNeill claim to be a unionist when he is of Nationalist stock?
Holmes: It's 1603, my dear Watson.
Angus MacNeill, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, has just appeared on BBC Northern Ireland's Hearts and Minds [link to iPlayer from this point] claiming to be a Unionist!
The thing is that the tactic that he was using was which version of the Union was his opponent in debate, the UUP leader Tom Elliott, referring to. He kept going back to it as Elliott tried to mention that the United Kingdom was stronger under the European Union (throwing another union into the mix shows how poor a debater Elliott is). So my Scottish friends beware!
Having worked on the referendum for the yes to AV campaign one thing that the No team did was to try and confuse and complex the issues. Something that MacNeill was trying to do to a clearly unprepared and unaware Elliot and presenter Noel Thompson. Yes there are a number of Unions involved the Union of the Crowns (of England and Scotland) in 1603, the Act of Union 1707, which did away with the separate states and parliaments under the same crown, there are of course the Acts of Union of 1800 that united Ireland into that Kingdom. There is also the Statue of Rhuddlan from 1284 which effectively binds Wales to England.
MacNeill was using the confusion which anyone who hasn't spent time with the SNP could easily fall into distracting the debate away from the issues to Northern Ireland as a result of Scottish independence by trying to tie Northern Irish unionists up by their understanding of what the Union is. The thing is of course there are different views of what the union is for amongst unionists. There is the Northern Irish viewpoint. There is one largely shared by Conservatives and Labour, then there is a different one that Liberal Democrats hold. Other parties such as UKIP hold other opinions as well.
Was MacNeill trying a line of attack on a show in Belfast this evening that may eventually get used in Glasgow and Edinburgh? One that accentuates differences in what the union means to various people who support it to pull the union apart? Is claiming to be a 1603 unionist a cunning plot to assuage people that Scottish Nationalists are going to change things that much. Though look at their continuing vision to centralise with the police and fire services bill publication today.
I think we are well aware that the SNP are not going to play by the rules that currently exist, because each time they get knocked back it becomes one more trophy for them to parade about a repressive Westminster. Now it looks like they may also be trying to confuse people by just what union we're all talking about. They may have launched a divide and conquer approach tonight, to try and win through.