Ian Swanson: A second referendum? Don’t hold your breath

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ALEX Salmond says it’s inevitable. Nicola Sturgeon believes it will happen 
“one day”, while David
 Cameron claims it’s not necessary and he won’t agree to it.

The tantalising question of whether to hold another referendum, giving Scots a second chance to vote on independence, has been a recurring theme ever since last year’s No verdict.

Many Nationalists would like nothing better than a quick return to the ballot box to capitalise on the SNP’s incredible tide of popularity and secure independence once and for all.

But wiser heads in the pro-independence camp are more cautious. Polls – for what they’re worth – seem to show that despite the SNP’s stunning result at this year’s general election and the party’s massive lead going into next year’s Holyrood ­elections, there is still not a clear majority for independence.

It would be a huge risk for the SNP to call another referendum until it is confident of winning. If a second attempt at persuading voters to take the plunge were to fail, it would be far more difficult to try a third time.

The SNP’s opponents accuse Nationalist leaders of going back on their word because they described the referendum as a once-in-a-generation event or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But politicians who had campaigned all their lives for a cause were never likely to give up and go home, especially after building support from around a third a to 45 per cent.

It will fall to Nicola Sturgeon to decide what to say about another referendum in the manifesto for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

She cannot realistically avoid mentioning the issue, but nor will she want to make a hard and fast commitment.

The most likely solution must be some form of words leaving open the option of calling a referendum, but only if the circumstances are right.

During the general election campaign, Ms Sturgeon spoke of the need for a “material change” before she would pledge another plebiscite. The example cited was a referendum on European Union membership where England voted to leave and Scotland voted to stay.

After Mr Salmond’s weekend insistence that a fresh independence vote was inevitable, Ms Sturgeon put the idea in a clearer context, which ­indicates she is in no rush to hold another referendum.

She said: “I believe Scotland will become an independent country and that will only happen if people vote for it in a referendum, so I believe one day there will be another independence referendum.”

Last time, the Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish governments transferred the power to hold a referendum to Holyrood to pave the way for a vote which was “legal, decisive and fair”. The SNP accepted the move to avoid any doubt over the validity of the vote, but it never conceded that such a transfer was essential, arguing Holyrood did have the right to hold a referendum under its own powers.

Mr Cameron now says he sees no need for a new referendum and would not agree to one while he is Prime Minister. That lays the ground for a potential conflict, but in practice there may be no move for another vote in that timescale anyway.

Before the next referendum the SNP has a lot of convincing to do. People voted No because they had too many questions without satisfactory answers. Ms Sturgeon and colleagues will have to work hard to turn their party’s current popularity into real backing for independence.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com