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The Neverendum – the constitutional nightmare that never goes away

The Neverendum – the constitutional nightmare that never goes away

There’s an old ghost story that unionists tell to make their campaigners behave. It is called the neverendum.

The way the story goes, the pro-union camp wakes up on September the 19th with groggy heads and bleary eyes. They check the news and they see the result: a narrow No to independence.

But, just as they are about to roll out the red, white and blue bunting, the cheers are caught in their throats. They begin to hear the calls.

The nationalists are demanding another referendum.

It is the story of the neverendum – the constitutional issue that never goes away, a kind of independence ground hog day dooming Scottish civil society to perpetual constitutional debate.

Unionist fears have been revealed again with Alistair Carmichael today warning that the UK Government must become more visible in Scotland, so that the issue is dealt with “once and for all”.

Carmichael’s comments come following David Cameron’s warning to nationalists that they must accept even a narrow defeat.

The Telegraph reported that Cameron was asked if a close No vote would be the “worst of all worlds”, because it would fail to resolve the matter.

He said: “I don’t think so, I obviously hope for a decisive result but let’s be clear, in a democracy you have an election and one has to respect the result and that’s exactly what must happen in this referendum.”

“All elections are close and all elections go down to the wire but I think it’s important we’re holding this referendum. I think our United Kingdom is stronger if it’s a United Kingdom based on consent.”

But Cameron’s comments miss the point – revealing a misunderstanding about the nature of the debate – because the issue is not one that Salmond can control.

It is one thing getting the SNP on board to accept the outcome (as stipulated in the Edinburgh Agreement) and another to get the Scottish people.

It is quite possible that another few years of austerity – combined with Cameron gloating over Scots ‘consenting’ to his rule – could lead to a spike in support for independence, even if the matter is closed as far as the electoral commission is concerned.

What then could the SNP do? On the one hand they have agreed the matter is a once in a generation decision, but on the other they are the party of independence and it would be very strange if they then denied calls for another vote.

At this point the SNP would be faced with the prospect of being outflanked by another pro-independence force looking to take their votes. And after a campaign which has spawned dozens of grassroots groups, there will be plenty of those.

Would the Greens and the SSP stop wanting independence after a close No? Would National Collective?

The party has survived just fine in the past without a referendum to campaign on, but it always had the promise of one.

In some ways a Yes vote would be less complicated – constitutionally speaking – than a No.

Cameron is worried, but Salmond should be too – because a close No would leave him stuck between the union and a hard place.

The neverendum may yet come to haunt him too.

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