Today marks the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum and you can bet your house we will not be allowed to forget it.
Not by the winners, but by the losers, for it is the nationalists who continue to make the most noise as they refuse to accept the democratic defeat they suffered at the hands of the Scottish electorate.
This puzzles many people, who wonder why SNP politicians have not crawled away into a dark room to collectively lick their wounds.
Instead, the SNP’s membership has grown exponentially to make it the third largest party in the UK, while the nationalists’ new, sassy, straight-to-the-point leader Nicola Sturgeon never seems to be off the telly.
Her party smashed Labour in the General Election and now looks destined to win an unprecedented third term in power at Holyrood.
Now, the occasional opinion poll suggests that Scotland could change its mind and back independence if there were a second referendum (although the two most recent polls showed a majority in favour of remaining in the UK).
A political mood has been created that leads many to conclude that independence is inevitable, that it is no longer a question of “if” but rather “when”.
I take a different view. I believe that, in the last year, the economic case for independence has worsened, going from an already weak position to a disastrous one, and that, as a result, if the Scots are given a second referendum, they will again vote to remain in the United Kingdom.
The nationalists have turned their referendum defeat into a political victory for two reasons.
First, they originally thought they could not win a referendum, but thanks to many misjudgements by the unionist campaign, they polled a respectable 45 per cent, better than their private fears, and so have come out of the experience inspired to try again.
Second, as the General Election showed, many voters who don’t believe in independence continue to support the SNP as the party best placed to speak up for Scotland.
Sixty-three per cent of voters in the Gordon constituency voted for staying in the UK, but many then voted for Alex Salmond to become their MP. So when the SNP wins the Holyrood election next May, as it should, we should not make the mistake that independence is just over the horizon.
More importantly, the fundamental economic reasons that Scots voted to stay in the UK have not changed. Indeed, they are stronger than before. On the three crucial questions of currency, tax revenues and European Union membership, the SNP could not give a straight or credible answer last year – and they would find it even harder to do so if another referendum came around.
Neither Salmond nor Sturgeon could say what currency would be used without surrendering sovereignty to the Bank of England and UK Treasury. The SNP’s projected tax revenues from oil production were ridiculed as outrageously optimistic even a year ago, suggesting that huge borrowing would be required to fund Scotland’s over-blown public spending commitments.
And the EU made it known that Scotland would have to reapply for membership on uncertain terms that could only be more expensive and onerous than the UK’s.
Since those slam dunks, the Greek euro crisis has emphasised how sharing a currency such as sterling when saddled with debt and as the weaker partner makes sovereignty meaningless.
Companies that indicated they would have been forced to relocate to England, where the vast majority of their customers are, have no reason to change that view – they would still have to go.
The price of oil – which the SNP assumed would be $113 a barrel – has fallen to $49 and shows no signs of recovering. Over 5,000 direct and 65,000 indirect jobs have already gone and investment is being cancelled, and the industry would remain in terminal decline even if the price of oil improves.
There can be no oil investment fund like Norway’s; tax revenues have fallen to just £700m, their lowest in 40 years, which would have left a black hole of some £3bn in an independent Scotland’s finances.
Meanwhile David Cameron is working to obtain a better deal with the EU that will not be available to Scotland by itself. Worse, if the UK votes for Brexit, an independent Scotland would have to pick up its share of the £11bn black hole that would open up in the EU’s budget once the UK stopped contributing.
So, for all the SNP’s political dominance, the economic fundamentals remain in place; the cautious Scottish people will recognise that there are more benefits to remaining in the United Kingdom than from leaving.