Actual referendums on independence are thin on the ground. The closest to the Scottish situation is the Quebec referendum of 1995 and that produced a narrow win for the No campaign – No: 50.58 per cent / Yes: 49.42 per cent.
However, it is the results from surveys leading up to that poll that raise questions as to what the referendum result will be. In Quebec, the No campaign enjoyed consistently healthy leads in the months leading up to the ballot. Six weeks before the vote, support for independence was only 35.7 per cent. Two weeks later, the Yes campaign had reduced it to ten points.
With three weeks to go, some pollsters began recording leads for Yes, and with 21 days to go until the actual ballot almost every pollster gave the Yes campaign a narrow lead. It scared the Canadian government, which mounted a sustained and quite nasty campaign in the final weeks, eventually winning by 1.16 per cent.
More recently, a referendum held in Ireland highlighted the dangers of relying on polls, when the Irish government’s option of abolishing the Senate was defeated by 51.7 per cent to 48.3 per cent. Only six days before the actual ballot, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found abolition was “backed by 62 per cent with only 38 per cent in favour of retaining”.
There is all still to play for in the independence referendum, and those who believe the result is a foregone conclusion should look to history and think again.
Alex Orr, Edinburgh