Brexit effect is notable by its absence..for now

Many fear a repeat of the independence campaign. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Many fear a repeat of the independence campaign. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Another poll yesterday showed support for independence still sluggish despite the Brexit vote. The
 47 per cent who said they would opt for Yes was a two point increase since the 2014 referendum, but still short of a majority.

It’s two years this weekend since 3.6 million people across Scotland went to the polls and voted 55-45 to stay in the UK.

Although the ten-point margin looks decisive, the result represented a major advance for the pro-independence camp who had started out with support just above 30 per cent. And since then there has been a constantly recurring debate about whether there will be another referendum.

The different verdicts from Scotland and the UK as a whole in the EU referendum seemed to present the perfect opportunity for the SNP to call another vote on independence.

But it hasn’t worked out that way – or at least not yet.

The SNP clearly set out in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto its argument that if there were to be a material change of circumstance, the Scottish people should have the right to return to the ballot box on independence.

And the party specifically cited as an example the possibility of Scotland being “dragged out” of the EU against its will.

So far, Brexit has not led to the surge in support for independence which the SNP had hoped for. But as the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal become clearer, that could still happen – though opponents will argue that however worrying the effects of Brexit, the fact remains England is still by far Scotland’s most important trading partner.

The SNP has launched a new National Survey on independence, aiming to speak to two million voters by the end of November in the “biggest-ever political listening exercise”.

Since the constitution is a Westminster matter, the Scottish Government would need an agreement with the UK before it could hold a new referendum. That was why Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement ahead of the 2014 vote, setting out the question, the franchise and the timeframe.

The legal provisions allowing the Scottish Parliament to organise the referendum expired as soon as it was over.

However, independence supporters argue the agreement set an essential precedent by recognising the right of Scots to become independent and to hold a referendum to decide it.

And Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has said she does not believe the UK Government should try to prevent a second vote.

Theresa May, asked whether she would block a fresh independence referendum appeared tacitly to accept that advice when she replied that the question was not whether there could be a referendum but whether there should be.

Many independence activists are enthusiastic – impatient, even – for another shot at realising their dream, though many other people dread the idea of going through the 2014 campaign all over again.

However, in many ways the argument about whether there should be another vote is pretty pointless.

Nicola Sturgeon will not try another referendum unless she knows she will win it – because a second defeat would take the SNP’s dream off the agenda for the forseeable future.

But if public opinion has clearly and decisively changed, enough to guarantee a Yes victory, it would be very difficult in a democracy to argue against that fresh vote.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com