2014 is set to be a busy year in Scottish politics, all building up to a crescendo in September with the long-awaited referendum on independence.
There are many other important events happening throughout this year; some directly connected to the referendum, and some that will indirectly provide an indicator as to how the Scottish public are being swayed by both the Yes and No campaigns.
Here are the dates of the milestones on the road to the referendum:
23rd January – Cowdenbeath By-Election
After the sad death last November of Helen Eadie, a Labour MSP since the first Scottish Parliament, a by-election will be held in her constituency of Cowdenbeath to decide her successor.
Mrs. Eadie won the seat with a majority of 1,247 votes in the 2011 election, which equates to a margin of victory of 4.9%. Any change in this margin could be seen as an early indication from the people of the Cowdenbeath area as to how they are responding to the independence campaign.
9th May – Official campaign period starts
The official 16-week campaign period begins on Thursday the 9th of May. During this time, both the Yes and No campaigns will be limited to spending £1.5 million each on convincing the Scottish people of their cause. Expect TV, radio and print adverts as well as mailshots through your door preaching for or against independence from this date on. This is when the campaigns will really begin, on a more local level especially, to try to capture your vote.
22nd May – European Parliament elections
The European Parliament elections are usually considered one of the least important in the UK election cycle, with turnout only reaching 34.7% last time in 2009, but this time there is an added spice.
With the relevance of Europe in the independence debate, with the Yes campaign believing that Scotland will automatically become members upon our independence and the No campaign believing we will have to re-apply, it will be interesting to see how the SNP fares.
Add in the further complexity of the growing support of UKIP, although largely in England, and a possible referendum on the UK’s EU membership after 2015, and this could well be one of the most interesting European Parliament elections in years, where we will see the current opinion of the Scottish and British people in relation to Europe.
24th June – 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn
One of the perceived reasons why the SNP government chose 2014 as the year for the independence referendum was because it will have been 700 years since the Scottish victory over England at the Battle of Bannockburn in the First War of Scottish Independence.
Of course, the effect of the anniversary is likely to be little more than providing symbolic context, but I’m sure it will make some think back on the nation’s history and consider the relevance of past attempts at independence in relation to the current referendum.
23rd July – 3rd August – 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
The Commonwealth’s top athletes will descend on Glasgow this summer as it hosts the long-awaited Games. It will be a chance for Scotland, and its’ government, to show the country off to the world, and it is largely considered that a successful hosting of the Games could help the Yes campaign by instilling a national pride and belief that Scotland can independently organise itself. Again, the effect might only be small in terms of actual issues, but the effect of the Games on the mood and attitude of the general public is not to be underestimated.
21st August – Purdah period begins in Parliament
From this date, SNP Government will not be allowed to introduce any new legislation in what is called a purdah period, so that government and referendum business do not interfere with each other. Holyrood will go into recess on the 23rd of August and then the members of the Government will begin the final stages of their campaigns for independence.
18th September – Polling day
Thursday the 18th of September is the day when Scotland will finally be asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” From 7am to 10pm, anyone living in Scotland over the age of 16 who is eligible will be able to cast their vote in the independence referendum. After the close of the polls, votes will be tallied first within council boundaries, with officers then reporting the results to a central officer. Although there will be exit polls available as soon as polls close predicting the result, we should know the official result of the referendum sometime in the early hours of Friday the 19th.
22nd September – Holyrood reconvenes
Whether Scotland is to become an independent state or not; the Scottish Parliament shall reconvene on Monday the 22nd September for its’ autumn term. Win or lose, the implications for the SNP will be major – either triumphantly working with the UK government to thrash out a deal to achieve independence or trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered dream. Although the referendum will have been and gone at this point, the consequences of it will only be beginning.
It’s hard to imagine a year in living memory where Scottish politics was as interesting and important to both the Scottish and British people, and there will definitely be many more noteworthy events this year outside these dates. The independence campaigns are well worth following closely, although these will be the focal points at which the microscope on Scotland will examine most closely.
You can see how these events affect the Scottish people’s referendum voting intentions via my Scottish Independence Poll of Polls page.