Dissecting the Referendum: The Future

Even though we’re not a week out from the referendum, the vision of a post-referendum Scotland is becoming increasingly clear as the dust settles.  Neither side of the debate is carrying on with ‘business as usual’, with both recognising a significant appetite for change in Scotland if not for independence.

Westminster is not going to take the No vote as a vote of confidence in their actions, and are going to work on new powers, but they have changed the parameters of what they have promised to be more considered (not as quickly delivered as they promised) and more wide-ranging (encompassing measures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland too).  According to Alex Salmond during his speech where he announced he is to resign as First Minister and SNP leader, David Cameron admitted to him that a crucial vote on the proposed new powers bill would be “meaningless” as Tory MPs are already revolting against their leaders plan to devolve more power away from Westminster.  Ed Miliband has also announced that he does not support the Prime Minister’s plans for devolution, hoping instead for a constitutional convention in October (presumably only if Labour wins May’s General Election) to discuss more wide-ranging powers.  Rather than getting more powers, more quickly within the UK, as Alistair Darling promised to the Scottish people towards the end of the referendum campaign, it appears that Scotland’s wishes are to be put on the back-burner after we have rattled our chains.

There have already been posts across social media with people announcing they have regretted that they voted No.  On the other side of the debate, Yes supporters have galvanised behind the “We are the 45%” movement, referencing the share of the vote the Yes campaign won in the referendum, trying to push the agenda of more powers and continue the momentum from the campaign for a better deal for Scotland.  Some are even discussing when next to put the question of Scottish independence to the people again.

Another referendum is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, if the resolve of those who voted Yes holds for longer than just the aftermath of the referendum.  Alex Salmond was oft-quoted in saying that he thought that a No vote would put the issue to bed for a generation, but several commentators within and outside of SNP circles have noted that the new party leadership may well seek to distance themselves from that and look to hold a vote earlier.  Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) leader and prominent Yes campaigner, has voiced his support for another referendum in just six years’ time. However, getting the circumstances together to create support for a referendum is tricky.  There would need to be an SNP government in Holyrood with enough of a majority on its’ own or in coalition to support a referendum, which would need the SNP not only to win as the polls suggest they will, but to win handsomely like in 2011.  There would need to be a UK Government who would support the referendum and accept its’ result as it agreed to do with the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012, easier said than done when there was a real panic that Scotland was going to vote Yes this time and prominent MPs (such as Jack Straw, who is usually far more reasonable) are already saying that this referendum has closed the door on any further chances for Scotland to vote on its’ future.  But most of all there would need to be a Scottish public who was not only ready to vote again, which might take time, but probably a Scottish public  who was much more in favour of voting Yes, otherwise it would create embarrassment for the SNP that would be tough to recover from.

For me, the generation timetable is perhaps the most likely to happen and most likely to succeed.  A quick return to a referendum could well happen soon; if the UK votes to leave the EU with Scotland voting to stay in and if the “more powers” for Holyrood fall way below the expectations of No voters.  However, even if this does result in a boost for Yes support, I’m not quite as sure if it would be as successful a campaign.  This time, Yes Scotland worked largely on the basis of reinvigorating a disenfranchised section of the population and convincing them that they could play a part in real change that would benefit them.  Having another referendum in six years wouldn’t find another “missing million”.  It would likely turn off a lot of casual supporters of the cause, as they might still fatigued with being preached to over the issue of independence after going through it all just half a decade ago.  I do still want to see an independent Scotland someday, but I think that we need to allow some time to accept the will of the majority to stay in the UK and let them try to convince us to stay with actions rather than promises.

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