Ian Swanson: Independence will have impact on 2015

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DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg have 18 months of their coalition left before they have to face the ­voters.

So it was no surprise that the focus of speeches and debates at the Labour conference this week and the Lib Dems last week was firmly on the 2015 Westminster general election.

The Tories’ gathering in Manchester next week will be the same.

But hold on – there’s another vote before that which could change 
everything.

If Scotland were to opt for independence in next year’s referendum, the general election would take place against the backdrop of detailed negotiations of the break-up of the UK, how to divide the assets and liabilities and how future relations between Scotland and England, Wales and Northern Ireland would work. The very existence of the country these politicians vie with each other for the right to govern is up in the air, yet that uncertain future is not reflected in their pronouncements.

It’s not that the parties have forgotten about Scotland’s September 18 referendum – the Lib Dems even came to Glasgow for their UK conference to underline their support for the Union and leading figures in all three UK parties have made speeches on the importance of securing a No vote.

But the dramatic consequences if the answer is Yes appear not to have sunk in properly.

Perhaps for them the prospect is too horrific to contemplate – or 
perhaps they just don’t think it’s going to ­happen.

Certainly, if the polls are to be believed, the independence campaigners are heading for defeat and ­disappointment. But with almost a year still to go and Alex Salmond’s known record in achieving spectacular turnarounds, nothing can be taken for granted.

The anti-independence Better Together campaigners insist there is no complacency about the outcome of the referendum, but the tone of much of what they say leaves a suspicion that they feel victory is more or less guaranteed.

Despite the months of debate on independence which have dominated the Scottish political scene and the hype given last week to the start of the 12-month countdown to the big day –not to mention the odd column from a right-wing commentator arguing England would be well rid of “subsidised” Scotland – the evidence suggests the debate on Scotland’s future has made little impact south of the border.

The BBC was criticised for lapsing into a Brigadoon view of Scotland in its UK-wide Newsnight special on independence last week. broadcast, complete with pipers, from the River Tweed – “which could become an international border”.

Bizarrely, however, latest data from the respected British Attitudes Survey shows support for Scottish independence higher in England than Scotland.

According to the new report, ­support in England has climbed from 19 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent, while support in Scotland fell to 23 per cent in 2012, from a 2006 peak of 30 per cent.

Perhaps independence supporters will conclude the pro-Union ­parties don’t want to fuel such feeling by ­promoting too much discussion on the issue.

But joking apart, such radical change is something that everyone should be encouraged to think about and debate.

It may be only people living in Scotland who will get to vote in the referendum, but the result will have 
repercussions for everyone in the UK.