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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Batten down the hatches - it's Indyref2

There is a certain irony in the Tories arguing that demands for another independence referendum will create ‘uncertainty and division’ - when to resolve internal party squabbling they started this division with the EU referendum. To complain that the SNP has ‘tunnel vision’ about independence, is like moaning that water flows downhill – it’s what that party exists for.

Opinion polls consistently show that people living in Scotland don’t want another referendum. As John Curtice puts it:

“It is the apparent lack of enthusiasm for a second referendum amongst some supporters that is the main reason why opponents of an early second ballot are apparently in the majority.”

So it is perfectly reasonable for parties to vote against this next week. The difference, lost some Labour politicians, is that it is not appropriate for Westminster to block it - as Jeremy Corbyn has made clear.

That still leaves the issue of timing and the question or questions. On timing it seems to be a matter of either 18 months or 2 years plus of purgatory for those of us not signed up to either of the flag waving hard core groups. Like many in the centre ground of this debate, I had naively hoped that the absence of elections for a few years was an opportunity to tackle some long-term issues in Scotland.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the question. The Scottish Government wants to go for a re-run of 2014, which gives them the positive ‘Yes’ ground. This may be the environmentally friendly recycling option for all those badges, but Westminster might have other ideas – ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ anyone?

And perhaps a second question? Last time both Alex Salmond and trade unions made the case for a second question on greater devolution. The Scottish Labour Party has recently adopted a more federal position and UK Labour is about to start its Peoples Constitutional Convention. This is much broader than just structures, addressing the redistribution of power and wealth.

I am not convinced a number of options on the ballot paper would work, but an either/or second question might. It would need a properly worked up proposal, which is pretty challenging in the available timeframe. It also needs to be truly radical – Calman, Smith etc were all missed opportunities, so another of these wont work.

After the Brexit vote, I argued that there might be two game changers for the Indyref swing voters – Scotland as the continuing EU state and a right-wing hard EU exit.

The first of those is unlikely and I suspect there will be some in the SNP who might want to fudge EU membership, to keep the many 2014 Yes voters who voted to leave the EU on board. The latter is still a possibility - Singapore on the Channel might stretch the solidarity case too far for many left wing 2014 No voters – particularly if the Labour right wing continues to undermine any chance of winning a UK election.

A big problem for the Yes/Leave camp is that largely middle-class EU Remainers are going to be more susceptible to the economic case against Independence. The economy remains a key issue and the SNP is going to have to answer these points a lot better than they did in 2014. This chart illustrates the point:

However, this could work both ways. As Jan Eichhorn from the University of Edinburgh argues:

“If leaving the EU became clearly associated with expectations of an economic downturn, the economic risks about Scottish independence might be re-evaluated by some. Conversely, if Brexit came to be seen as an opportunity for future economic prospects, Scottish views could shift in favour of the union.”

So, batten down the hatches for months of process haggling, followed by many more of ‘Project Fear’ v ‘Project Pollyanna’. Hold me back!

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