Polls don’t predict anything, of course. But let’s make some allowances for the rather excitable headline in The National (Scottish independence soars ahead as Ashcroft poll predicts Yes win).
That being said, there are occasions when pols try to predict. Or, to be more precise, they ask their respondents for their predictions. The Ashcroft poll which is causing such exhilaration among Yes supporters and such agitation among Unionists asked the following question.
If there were to be a new referendum on Scottish Independence within the next two years, what do you think would be the most likely outcome?
By a margin 52% to 30% respondents stated that they thought the outcome would be a win for Yes.
This finding has considerable implications for the independence campaign strategy. Taking it at face value, it tells us that the idea of independence, not so long ago considered outlandish, has gone well beyond being normalised. To the extent that this accurately reflects public attitudes, it suggests that people are resigned to independence being inevitable whatever their personal attitudes to the prospect.
Some of us realised the inevitability of independence some time ago. Almost exactly five years ago I wrote,
I take the view that independence is now inevitable and that a No vote can only postpone it for five or maybe ten years. I take this view not only because I believe that the spirit of progressive activism that has arisen in Scotland will not be suppressed, but also because I recognise that the response of the British state to a No vote will, itself, provide greater impetus for the independence movement. My concern is not that the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not be achieved but that, in the interim, irreversible harm will have been done to Scotland’s institutions and that serious, perhaps irreparable damage will have been done to the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.Please stay: A response to Jim Sillars’s essay in the Daily Record
In March 2016, with the EU referendum looming, i expanded on this point.
The first and most important thing to remember is that independence is coming anyway. Independence is inevitable. It is inevitable because any devolution measure which succeeds in terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people. And this was never more true than it is of the latest round of inept and malicious constitutional tinkering represented by the Scotland Bill.EU referendum is not Scotland’s fight
What is significant is that there now appears to be a more general acceptance of this inevitability. Whether this is because of growing concerns about the way in which “the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK” is being soured by British politicians; or whether it is due to increasing dissatisfaction with a devolution settlement which looks daily more insecure; or whether it is simply an artefact of the ubiquity and pervasiveness of the Yes movement, we have no way of knowing. It is likely to be some combination of all these factors as well as others, such as just plain weariness with a constitutional debate that won’t go away no matter how much British Nationalists would like to wish it away.
This has the potential to open up some new lines of attack for the Yes campaign. It could, for example, piggy-back on British Nationalist propaganda about ‘voter fatigue’ by suggesting that the easiest way to stop the campaigning is to vote Yes. Because it’s highly unlikely that there will be a campaign to take Scotland back into the Union. Portraying a Yes vote as drawing a line under the issue and allowing us to get on with building a better nation could appeal to more than a few people.
Perhaps more importantly, the idea of independence being inevitable could usefully augment a campaign which seeks to turn the issue around and put Unionists on the defensive. An anti-Union campaign on a question about dissolving the Union could make good use of the argument that most people are resigned to independence happening and so the onus is on Unionists to persuade them otherwise.
There is another valuable lesson in all of this. Above all, the Yes campaign has to be imaginative enough to incorporate new material into its strategy. And flexible enough to be able to do this on the fly. We should not need taught that running a dusted-off and polished-up version of the 2014 campaign is a very bad idea. After all, at that time few among the general public thought independence was even possible, far less inevitable.
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