So now both sides in the ABS debate can claim a vote in their favour. But the more important question surely is, how do we move forward as a united profession? Yesterday's SGM vote, like the referendum before it, is significant but cannot be the sole yardstick by which policy is set.
Let's start with the most fundamental point of all, the Society's statutory obligation to promote "the interests of the solicitors' profession in Scotland". However you look at it, the profession is deeply divided as to where those interests lie. Whether you take the more or less even split of those who voted in the referendum, or yesterday's larger majority the other way (57% to 43%) on a smaller vote (3,107 compared with 4,466) – itself something of an unknown quantity since it depended on proxies mostly cast before the compromise amendment was known about – there are large numbers of solicitors on both sides. That cannot be dismissed as "the big four versus the rest": the arithmetic just doesn't fit.
Constitutionally, of course, if the SGM vote is adopted by next month's AGM, the Society has no choice but to accept the outcome. Yet it would be unlikely to lead to the profession moving forward as one, and most of those who spoke at yesterday's meeting recognised the dangers, and weakness, of a split profession. Even Craig Bennet, interim SLAS President, while calling on the Society to work within the result, added that he hoped to engage in constructive discussions and that "the best agreement is one with which no one is happy".
In the light of all that, I would go so far as to suggest that the Society has a positive obligation to continue to seek a compromise solution, at least between now and the AGM, whether that consists of something along the lines of the amendment discussed yesterday or some alternative.
It should at least become clearer in that time what attitude the Parliament is likely to take to the Legal Services Bill, beginning with the stage 1 debate next week. Since the anti-ABS camp believe that a change of Law Society policy will have some influence on MSPs' votes, there should be some reappraisal if, as the other side predict, there are too many other interests in play for the Government and Parliament not to continue on their present course. The question whether, if changes are to happen anyway, solicitors should be involved whether or not they saw a need for change, is an important one in its own right.
There are those who say that the Society has been too intimately involved with Government and with the bill to play the "honest broker" role. They are unlikely to be persuaded by anything I say to the contrary. But by all accounts the Society was hopeful it did have a deal at one stage in the recent talks within the profession, and if it fails to get one it will not have been for want of trying. Now is not the time to give up.