Indyref – 2 years on

It’s two years since Scotland said No to independence in a referendum that completely transformed the face of the country and its’ politics.

From a day where many thought the independence dream would be shattered we have now reached a stage where the old gang is getting back together, with the grassroots organisations that supported independence re-thinking how to go about campaigning for an indyref2 and the SNP Government launching another “conversation” with the public about what they see as the country’s future.

Anyone that thought the No vote of 2014 would be the end of Scotland’s constitutional campaign have been proven sorely wrong.

Scotland may not quite be on the verge of going it alone just yet, but the independence arguments of old are rearing their heads once more in Scottish public life – even as the SNP Government sets about its’ third term in office with a weakened stranglehold on the Scottish Parliament.

But this is understandable, as the Scotland that many people voted Yes to achieve has still not been realised and will likely never be possible under Westminster rule.

What strikes me reading back over my reasoning for voting Yes first time around just how much of it rings true, particularly with the what I believed were the dangers of staying in the Union.

These two quotes below maybe demonstrate the peak of my foresight:

“The real threat to our EU membership is actually staying in the UK, as opinion polls show that Britain as a whole wants to leave the EU while Scotland wants to stay in.”

“We get to have a written constitution that defends our rights, rather than have a Government that actually wants to repeal the Human Rights Act.”

What’s clear though is that although many of the political and social arguments of independence are still as prescient and perhaps even more widely supported now than ever, that the economic case still hasn’t been made.

All this adds up to polls that have shifted ever so slightly towards Yes since 2014 but not by enough to merit a major shift in public opinion.  We still live in a post-referendum political climate.

Independence polling since the referendum
Independence polling since the referendum

Both Yes and No supporters can probably point to polls since the vote and claim that they fare well for their side of the argument.

Yes supporters can rightly claim that polls discounting undecideds have almost entirely been more favourable to independence than the 18th September vote was, so there has been progress towards securing the majority needed.

No supporters too can claim that polling averages have rarely seen Yes with a majority, peaking only a month or two after the referendum; last summer while the SNP rode high off their 2015 General Election successes and immediately following the Brexit vote this year.  Other than these times No has consistently clung on to its’ lead and had never been threatened by the 60% number that Nicola Sturgeon claimed would be required to push for another referendum.

However, it’s worth considering that for the 2014 referendum the Yes campaign started with a baseline support of 30% or even lower, and that the number of undecideds that have come into play have generally been for the No camp – so winning the 6% swing they need to succeed in a second indyref is very much achievable.

Where the last campaign failed, a new Yes campaign needs to flourish and provide practical, reasoned and workable solutions to the problems of creating a new Scottish state.

Currency was a major stumbling block last time, and a new independence campaign needs to have clear plans in place as to what an independent Scotland would use for its’ money to allow it to succeed.  Options need to be available to account for different scenarios – with relations between Scotland, the UK and EU likely determining whether the best and most likely option is an independent Scottish currency, the Pound or the Euro.

Nicola Sturgeon has taken steps to address this though, and a new 14-member panel packed full of economic experts will take a look at the future of Scotland’s currency options and hopefully provide a more detailed analysis of the situation to go forward with in a potential indyref2.

On a related note, there needs to be a consideration of how Scotland’s budget would be managed if it became independent – with the huge deficit that it currently runs and the dwindling oil reserves combining to make Scotland’s finances seem in a poor condition to go it alone.  A combination of higher taxes and cuts to public spending would most likely be needed – but the Yes campaign needs to frame this in the terms that the short term pains of these measures would result in long-term gains for the country.

But even with this point there is new evidence that Yes campaigners can use to their advantage, with Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute last week publishing a report that says Brexit and the UK Government’s austerity measures could cut Scotland’s budget by 6% – and providing further credence to claims that the UK’s approach to economic management is a real hindrance to Scotland’s prosperity.

With these two elements of currency and budget ironed out there really would be little stopping a Yes vote from happening.  Scotland’s place in the EU seems more assured than ever if it were to become independent as European politicians have repeatedly shown their willingness to co-operate with Scotland in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave.  Indeed, the EU’s lead negotiator for Brexit – former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt – said himself that there would be “no big obstacle” for Scotland to join the EU even before the UK leaves and that only a majority of members would need to back the country as a new member.

Scotland has never been closer to leaving its’ 300-year Union with the rest of the UK and while the 18th of September may be etched on everyone in Scotland’s mind as a day where we voted to stay it may well be looked back upon as one where the UK was given a final chance to change its ways before it’s 2nd largest nation went it alone.

Nicola Sturgeon said after the EU referendum that a second referendum was “highly likely” and in this week’s coverage of the first referendum’s anniversary two high-profile Yes figures Alex Salmond and Blair Jenkins both predicted that indyref2 would take place at some point in 2018.

Even last year while I was optimistic that Scotland would once again get the chance to determine its own destiny I never imagined that events would bring that opportunity so quickly after the 2014 vote.  Now it seems there’ll only be another few years before Scotland’s Yes/No question is asked again – and with all that’s happened there’s a lot to look forward to if you believe, like I do, that independence is the best way forward for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.

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