BBC Scotland will have to do better. It's not every day the public broadcaster covers the launch of an independence campaign; only once every four years or so. Next time it should remember to bring the microphones.

Yesterday we could hear the leader, with her teacherly air of weary exasperation at the indiscipline of the English class, signalling her intention to seek a section 30 order. I confess a relative unfamiliarity with a section 30 order; it sounds like something the persons in the white coats invoke to pack the mentally deranged off to the nearest secure institution. It seems a section 30 order is merely the next best thing: a legal trigger for another of Scotland's many dates with destiny.

But the leader was the only person we could hear – or see – during the BBC's live feed of her Bute House press conference. Was she asked the one question that was begging to be asked: why was she so fuzzy about timing? You really wouldn't have known. Someone called Brian asked a question, then a Colin, then a Sarah, then a Peter. You could catch them plaintively in the background, about as audible as the characters in that telly nonsense about the Nazis occupying post-war Britain. The muffled tones of the Scottish media, contrasted with the disturbing clarity of the leader, served as a perfect metaphor.

With the Peter one she got a little tetchy, presuming to lecture him about the essential relationship between journalists and politicians. According to her magisterial reproof, a journalist is on this earth to ask questions and a politician to answer them. They did this sort of sarcasm rather well at Greenhill Primary in 1951, but in my own experience it's not strictly true. Lots of journalists – maybe most – prefer to answer their own questions.

My own question – not that I was there to put it – concerns the SNP's 'long-standing' commitment to European union. I was struck by the phrase when it lightly tripped off the leader's tongue. Its casual use might have misled the unwary – that is to say, most of the Scottish electorate – into thinking that her party had consistently been the staunchest supporter of the cause. Some of us remember otherwise.

When I started taking an interest in Scottish politics in 1970, there was no more vociferous opponent of the EEC, as it then was, than the Scottish National Party. The key theme of its election platform that year was the evil of European integration. Winifred Ewing, who somehow metamorphosed into 'Madame Ecosse', said in a campaign speech in her Hamilton constituency: 'Workers in Scotland would, if Scotland were forced into the Common Market, have their wage rates and their conditions of work fixed for them. Decisions affecting working men and women would be taken in Brussels'.

In the same campaign, the party chairman and candidate for West Lothian, William Wolfe, railed against Europe with a series of thunderous denunciations. In his last speech before polling day, he claimed that opposition to the EEC sprang 'from all that is best in the Scottish character, its individuality, its love of country, and its hatred of centralisation'.

I always liked and admired William Wolfe, no doubt partly because he once paid me a high compliment. He said that no-one would ever be able to guess my political allegiance, if I had any, and that among political journalists this was unusual. But he did say some odd things. Once, for example, he got into terrible trouble with the Roman Catholic Church (always a bad idea). Likewise his statement about the Scottish character would not have endeared him to the miners of West Lothian, who valued a sense of community, even solidarity, above any expression of individuality.

The party sustained its opposition to European integration as far as Britain's membership of the community in 1973 and well beyond. By the time of the 1975 referendum, its official view of the EEC was that it was 'not a market but a political super power' and Winnie Ewing invited SNP supporters to dismiss the result if the poll was less than 50%. The poll was 64% and Scotland voted by a 3-2 majority to stay in.

I mention these inconvenient facts as a reminder that the SNP was not always the noble European of British politics that Nicola Sturgeon paints for us; and, incidentally, as further proof of the party's curious sense of the passage of time. Just as a generation between referendums proved to be shorter than expected, so 'long-standing' in its flexible vocabulary could mean anything from a few days to the lifetime of Alex Salmond, who lurks ominously in the changing room should his successor fail to crawl over the finishing line.

I'll be reminded that the SNP is not the only party that, in matters European, has undergone a conversion on the road to Dunipace. What is striking about the SNP is the brilliant opportunism of that conversion, as if a butter mountain wouldn't melt in its mouth. Yesterday showed the extent to which it is a party without a past, a party that exists in the moment.

But it is reassuring to learn that one thing hasn't changed: its 'hatred of centralisation'. Only the nature of that centralisation is different. In the 1970s, it was hatred of centralisation in Brussels. Forty years later the party positively embraces the prospect. The target now is what the leader calls 'centralisation of power in Westminster'. Ms Sturgeon should know: she is something of an expert on centralisation. She presides over one of the most centralising administrations in Scottish post-war history.

Yet, once again, there is no sense of irony.

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