Scottish Independence: Unfinished business?

Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond at the second televised debate during the indyref campaign. Picture: PA
Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond at the second televised debate during the indyref campaign. Picture: PA
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On the first anniversary of the referendum, Ian Swanson examines how the mood has changed and if a second vote is inevitable.

IT’S a year today since Scotland voted 55-45 to stay part of the UK – but the issue of independence has not gone away.

And with some polls showing a majority now in favour of going it alone, senior SNP figures believe there has been a decisive mood change which means many who voted No last year are now ready to back independence.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made clear she does not plan to call a second referendum until she can be confident of winning it.

And opponents claim economic circumstances, particularly the oil price, have changed significantly since the referendum and the case for independence is weaker.

As referendum day dawned 12 months ago, many in the Yes campaign believed they were going to win. A YouGov poll on September 7 had put Yes ahead for the first time, by 51 per cent to 49, causing consternation in the No camp.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband abandoned Prime Minister’s Questions to come north to campaign. And the unionist parties put aside their differences and signed up to “The Vow”, promising extensive new powers for Holyrood if voters rejected independence.

Alex Salmond has said that poll was the decisive factor which led to a No vote. It created “sheer panic” among the unionist parties, but was “a poll too soon”, he says.

Just a week later and the No campaign would not have had time to react; he believes the vote would have been a Yes.

Edinburgh East SNP MP Tommy Sheppard says the referendum saw an expression of national self-confidence which has carried on growing since.

He says: “A lot of people who I know voted No probably wouldn’t do so the next time. They have either come over to a Yes position or they are relaxed about it – they are not animated against it in the way they were. So I think there is a mood change.

“I also think it’s interesting that support for independence has increased over the year despite there not being a campaign for it.

“The baseline for Yes support now seems to be higher than the 45 per cent from the referendum. If there were to be another campaign that would be a remarkably good starting point.

“For me, the process of the referendum campaign was an affirmation of national self-confidence. Scotland is a lot easier in its own skin than it has ever been and a lot more confident in its own 
capacities.”

He says people also feel cheated by the failure of the UK government to live up to The Vow. The Tories insist they are delivering on its promises, but a cross-party committee at Holyrood has added its voice to the criticism.

Mr Sheppard detects a “slow flow” of public opinion in favour of independence over the last year.

In Edinburgh, where there was a bigger No vote than in many parts of the country, he acknowledges there were distinctive factors at play in the 
referendum.

“Some of the scare stories about financial services obviously impacted on Edinburgh, and the fact we have a lot of English-born Scots here might have been a factor.”

He believes, a year on, many people recognise some of the No camp’s claims on companies moving out of Scotland as “scare stories”. And he says there are plenty English-born Scots in his own SNP branch.

Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray – shadow Scottish secretary and his party’s sole Westminster survivor north of the Border – sees things differently and is adamant voters in the Capital are in no mood for a referendum re-run.

“The vast majority of Edinburghers don’t want to go through that again,” he says.

“It was only a year ago it was promised to be a once-in-a-generation or once-in-a-lifetime event. While it was an invigorating democratic experience, people feel talking about another referendum less than a year after the first one is not the way they want to go.

“The economics are worse now for Edinburgh people than they were before. The oil price is half the price of what would sustain a Scottish economy and the projections are it will go lower.

“Financial services across Europe are uncertain again with regard to the problems in Greece and the problems the eurozone are continuing to have. I think people want to move on and talk about the real issues.”

He highlights one benefit from the referendum. “Most people are more politically engaged, which is a great thing, particularly young people.”

But he adds: “There is also a great divide. There is no doubt the referendum divided the country and I’m not sure those divisions have healed.”

NATION SPLIT

A NEW analysis of recent polls suggests Scots are split 50-50 on independence.

Polling guru Professor John Curtice said: “Scotland appears to be divided straight down the middle. Based on five polls conducted over the last month, Yes and No are tied on 50 per cent each. This small but perceptible swing to Yes during the course of the last year means we cannot be sure who would win if a second referendum were held today.”

Thousands of pro-independence supporters will march through the Old Town to the Scottish Parliament today to mark the referendum anniversary.