Leader: New referendum must answer all the old questions

Alex Salmond does not expect Scotland to be given any concessions in Britains Brexit negotiations. Picture: John Devlin
Alex Salmond does not expect Scotland to be given any concessions in Britains Brexit negotiations. Picture: John Devlin
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According to former first minister Alex Salmond, his successor “knows her own mind” on a second independence referendum, and the decision over holding one is “her judgment and her choice”.

It’s fair to say, however, that despite Salmond’s assurance, Nicola Sturgeon has not been short of public advice from her predecessor since moving into Bute House.

Salmond’s belief that Sturgeon is in a stronger position than he was in 2012 when support for independence stood at just 27 per cent is typically bullish. But the comparison is worthless, because it is wishful thinking to believe a further 20 per cent can be added to the average of 48 per cent who currently back independence. Support for independence and for the Union has hardened, and the amount of voters who might be persuaded one way or the other is much smaller than before.

It is also stretching a point for Salmond to say he was willing to call an independence referendum in 2012 on just 27 per cent support. In fact, he was locked into a manifesto commitment when the Scottish Parliament elections delivered an unprecedented overall majority for the SNP.

The reality of the present is that there would have to be a significant increase in support for independence over a sustained period before a second referendum could be considered, and Sturgeon will not take the gamble of believing that a starting point of 48 per cent would be improved upon during a campaign.

Indeed, a cynic might argue that the “listening exercise” that SNP members are to carry out may be designed not just to find out why people didn’t want independence in 2014, but also to show members that the appetite for a second referendum isn’t strong enough.

Salmond has every right to highlight the fact that support for independence continues to ride high. But the detracting factors of the last campaign – currency, economy, the EU – still require convincing answers. Even the shock of Brexit only three months ago has not taken independence over the 50 per cent mark. Until those answers can be provided, a second referendum could not be justified.