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Society, Politics & Law

The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum - Introduction

Updated Monday, 2nd March 2015

This series of articles introduces you to the main themes and issues that informed the Scottish Independence Debate.

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David Cameron and Alex Salmond Creative commons image Icon Surian Soosay under CC BY-2.0 license under Creative-Commons license Introduction

The September 2014 Scottish Referendum resulted in a NO vote for Scottish Independence. Alex Salmond, then leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), announced before the Rerendum that the result would settle Scotland’s long term future ‘for at least a generation’ while the Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband claimed after the vote was announced that the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum has ‘secured the Union for a generation’ (also see this article). 
In the months that followed the Referendum, however, relatively few would now support such a claim. Among the reasons for the majority of voters opting to vote NO and to support continuing Scottish membership of the UK union, for now at least, was the fear of the uncertainty that a YES vote may have created, not least an uncertainty compounded by fears and risks of the future state of any Independent Scottish economy.
Reflecting on the 2014 Referendum at the start of 2015, it is perhaps now more valid to argue that a YES vote would have resulted in more certainty, arguably it would have been a 'clearer' outcome, given the political and constitutional turmoil that has emerged as a result of the Referendum. This turmoil is now shaping UK politics in ways that few could have predicted before the Independence Referendum itself.
There are many different but related aspects to this as will be explored in these articles. However, it is important to recognise now that irrespective of the side of the argument that was taken, those voting in the Scottish Referendum were in favour of change. In different ways the YES and NO votes were votes for different degrees of change – change within the context of Scottish remaining part of the UK or Scotland as a fully Independent country.
But change nonetheless. While this was largely articulated in terms of constitutional preferences, behind this was a demand for much more significant economic and social change – and a break from ‘Westminster’ politics and from the UK Government policies that have increasingly been viewed with hostility in Scotland.
It had long been acknowledged that whatever the outcome of the Referendum, things would not remain the same. Scotland has changed. The UK has changed. Changed to what is not clear at this stage but the 2015 UK General Election, 2016 Scottish Elections and any subsequent Referendum on UK membership of the European Union, which may take place in 2017, will reflect the continuing fall-out from the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum as well as in their own ways contribute to even more debate and possible uncertainty about the future shape and constitutional framework of the UK.
Far from settling the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future, there is mounting evidence that the September 2014 Referendum would not be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Scottish Independence. Within only a month or so of the Referendum itself, demands were being made for another Referendum. In early November 2014, for instance, the results of several opinion polls reflected this ongoing fall-out from the Referendum.
In an Ipsos-Mori Poll in early November 2014, 66 per cent of people in Scotland supported having another referendum within the next 10 years regardless of circumstances; 58 per cent support having another referendum vote in the next five years; 55 per cent support another referendum if the UK votes to leave the EU in 2017. So much for the September 18 being a once in a lifetime/generation opportunity! The poll also recorded a surge in support for the SNP at the expense of the Labour Party, with the SNP on 57 per cent, Labour on 24 per cent, 9 per cent for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on 7 per cent.
It needs to be remembered that the above poll took place less than two months after the SNP were decisively defeated in the Independence Referendum – a Referendum which was heralded as a victory for the Labour Party in particular.
A spate of opinion polls in the first few months of 2015 appear  to confirm that the SNP’s rising support was not a mere post-referendum ‘blip’.
It is now commonly accepted wisdom that devolution was not a one-off event taking place in 1999 but a long process of gradual change. That more powers have already come to Scotland since 1999 reflects this (and more powers are due to be developed in 2016 under the 2012 Scotland Act). However, the debate about additional powers has already moved beyond the stipulations contained within the 2012 Scotland Act, even before they have been implemented.
Reflecting on the devolutionary process and on the outcome of the 2014 Independence Referendum, a similar argument can be advanced that Independence is not a one-off event either, but a longer process. For some commentators, as well as for many who flocked to join the pro-YES parties following the 2014 Independence Referendum, it will mark but the first stage in this historic process which will eventually lead to Scottish Independence and the break-up of the UK. 
As has already been highlighted, the 2015 General Election and any subsequent UK-wide Referendum on withdrawal from the EU will also spark other opportunities for the SNP to assert the distinctiveness of Scotland. Voices have already been heard loud and clear that in the event of an overall UK YES vote to withdraw from the EU in 2017, and Scotland voting YES to remain in the EU, this should result in another Independence Referendum for Scotland.
Now delve into our series of articles to explore these issues... 




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