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18 September 2015
A year on the question is when, not if, there will be a second referendum

A year on the question is when, not if, there will be a second referendum

It doesn’t feel like a year since the referendum.

On 19 September, 2014, I arrived in the Holyrood newsroom at about 7:30am, having been up all the previous night watching the No vote come in at the central count in Edinburgh. 

My main memory of those exhausting couple of days – the vote and the aftermath – is of how quickly the mood in Scotland seemed to change. The run-up to the vote had been marked by an incredible energy. The choice may have been binary, yes or no, but the campaigns were kaleidoscope.  


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The whole world seemed to have sent an observer, and in the weeks leading up to the vote it had felt like Scotland was at the centre of everything. Walking through the centre of Edinburgh on the way to the office, when it was all over, everything felt weirdly quiet. 

A year forward there is not room enough here to go through the events that have filled the space in the time between then and now. 

Some, like Sir Tom Hunter, have called for Scotland “to move on” from last September, though in the current atmosphere that seems about as effective as clinking a glass and pleading for a mob to “stop it” during a bar brawl.

And with the SNP having taken the General Election by storm, it was perhaps inevitable that questions of another referendum – an #indyref2 – have reared their head.

Recent polling suggests, if another vote were held today, Scotland could quite possibly vote for independence – Ipsos Mori’s most recent survey putting support for independence at 53 per cent.

Next, Alex Salmond used his Courier column to claim: “Political choices being made at Westminster are dramatically shortening the likely timescale of a second referendum.”

So, if polls show support for independence, why the seeming reluctance to put a straightforward promise for another one in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto?

One answer is that there is no guarantee the Yes campaign would win. A couple of polls might show marginal support for independence, but then, so did one in the week before the No vote. 
The logic runs that the SNP does not want to risk losing two in such quick succession. 

At least that is the view taken by Alistair Darling, who said: “If you lose one referendum, that’s unfortunate. If you lose two, it’s pretty nigh on disastrous because you can’t really go back on a third occasion.”

Discussing how to handle demands from supporters, he said: “They want it so much, she’s got to let them down lightly. Maybe in a few years’ time, it will occur to them ‘actually, we don’t seem to be getting a referendum’. What you are seeing is an act of party management rather than a high-minded, strategic decision.” 

It is a tricky situation for the party to manage. The party may be confident that, with the Tories in power for another five years, a Yes vote would be more likely in a few years’ time. But if pro-independence voters believe the SNP will not offer them a vote soon enough, they might go to a party that will.

It would certainly be interesting to see what would happen if some pro-independence party – say the Greens or RISE – were to take a few more seats in 2016 then push for a Holyrood vote demanding another referendum. Would SNP members abstain?

And so discussion over the necessary conditions for a second vote continue. Yet, looking back a year on, the question still seems to be, not if there will be another vote, but when. 

Get some sleep while you can.

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