Ian Swanson: Independence fight will heat up

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THIS time next year, we’ll know. The votes will have been counted and the declaration made.

Either Scotland will have said Yes to independence and Alex Salmond will be preparing to negotiate a split with the rest of the UK, or voters will have rejected the Scottish Government’s case for going it alone and the Union will continue.

Yesterday’s start of the 12-month countdown to the big day was marked by much media coverage and a debate at Holyrood, but despite the hype even the Yes and No camps don’t expect the campaign to hot up until much nearer the vote.

One senior Yes figure predicts it will all get going “around the turn of the year” while a leading No campaigner suggests “next spring” before observing that the typical four to six-week duration of an election campaign is more than enough for many people.

If the polls are any guide, a No vote looks the most likely outcome. But with a year to go and given the SNP’s unpredicted and unprecedented overall majority at the last Holyrood election, it would be a mistake to assume the issue is already settled.

The referendum will take place just months before the next UK general election and whatever the polls are saying about the likely outcome of that contest could play a key part in helping people decide how to vote on Scotland’s future. A poll some time ago found the prospect of another Conservative government at Westminster would send support for independence soaring to 52 per cent.

So far, the debate has been as much about political point-scoring as giving voters the information they want to help them make what is a hugely important decision.

The SNP’s white paper, setting out the independence plan, is promised for November. No doubt the No camp is already poised to pick holes in it and claim crucial questions are still not answered.

But politicians on both sides owe it to the voters to curb the sloganising, tone down the hostility and engage in a calm and rational manner with the issues the public want addressed.