The victory speech that Alex Salmond would have made if Scotland had voted ‘Yes’ to independence last year was released yesterday.
As well as providing an insight into how the early days of a newly independent country would have felt, it allowed a timely opportunity to consider whether we are any closer to a current or future First Minister actually delivering a similar speech.
Earlier this month I wrote for City A.M. that, despite the result of last year’s referendum, the issue of independence is as alive as ever. The political landscape in Scotland is still dominated by the country’s constitutional future and the issue looks set to dominate next year’s Holyrood election campaign.
But what has changed in the last year and would we be any more or less likely to vote ‘Yes’ in a future referendum?
The prospect for any future referendum lies in the outcome of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. If the SNP, as expected, wins another overall majority then the first hurdle to a second referendum is cleared.
Last weekend the First Minister promised that next year’s SNP manifesto will set out both the conditions and the timeline under which ‘a second referendum might be appropriate.’ These conditions are likely to include ‘triggers’ such as the UK leaving the European Union after that vote, despite the majority of people in Scotland voting to remain in.
Our most recent polling shows that there is likely to be broad public support for a second referendum after some, though not all, of these trigger events coming to pass. But of greater importance is the state of public opinion towards the independence question itself.
All polling conducted since the referendum has shown at least a moderate increase in support for independence, though of course some pre-referendum polling also had support at over 45 per cent. In some cases, like our most recent poll, that has meant support going a little over 50 per cent while in other cases support remains a little under.
In other words, although more Scots seem a little more sympathetic to independence than a year ago, it is unlikely that the SNP feels confident enough about winning a second vote to make an unconditional commitment to another referendum in the next few years.
More likely, the SNP will want to see a healthy, consistent poll lead for a ‘Yes’ vote over a significant period of time before being confident that it would win. And this looks unlikely to happen in advance of the 2016 campaign beginning.
For those who want independence, the timing of a second vote is crucial because another ‘No’ vote would likely mean the issue would be off the agenda for the foreseeable future.
And the dilemma is a tough one; on one hand opinion appears to be moving broadly in their direction and may continue to do so in reaction to an unpopular Conservative-majority government making decisions of which most Scots disapprove.
On the other hand, public opinion has not moved decisively and could quickly move in the other direction if a campaign begins. And independence supporters cannot afford to lose again.
So, any second referendum and its outcome is entirely unpredictable at the moment.