Scottish independence: 365 days to go

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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The campaigns have devised their sound-bites, booked the billboards, posed for their team photos, and printed off millions of leaflets.

Today, the marathon run up to the referendum on Scottish independence marks one year to go until voters get a chance to have their say on the biggest decision the nation has ever faced.

First Minister Alex Salmond last night described it as a “once in a generation” event.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore went one further and described it as “once in a lifetime”. Both agreed that it was undeniably “historic”.

Already two years in the making, since the SNP government won its landslide victory in the Holyrood elections, the referendum now moves from phoney-war stage into countdown mode.

A frenzied year of campaigning is set to follow, with the two campaigns preparing to recruit tens of thousands of activists and spend millions of pounds in an effort to sway public opinion their way.

A year today, polls will open at 7am, with the result expected in the early hours of the following morning. From now until then, the constitutional position of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will effectively be in limbo.

If Scotland votes Yes, the SNP government has said that Scotland would become an independent nation in 2016, less than three years time.

Current polls suggest that Scottish voters are minded to remain within the Union, but with large numbers also declaring themselves undecided, there is a real battle ahead.

Speaking ahead of a Scottish Government-led parliamentary debate on the future of Scotland at Holyrood today, Mr Salmond said: “Today marks one year to the biggest opportunity Scotland has ever had – referendums like this are a once in a generation event, which means the vote on September 18th next year will be the opportunity of a lifetime for many people in Scotland, as we get the chance to choose our country’s future.”

He added: “This referendum is not about any one politician or party – it is about completing Scotland’s home rule journey which has been under way for more than a century.”

Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said: “These are exciting times to live in Scotland. This is an absolutely defining moment and a once-in-a-lifetime choice.

“That’s why I hope people will think carefully as they prepare for the vote,” he said.

“I’m sure the year ahead will be both challenging and exciting as the arguments crystallise and people prepare to cast their vote. It will also be memorable and, above all, historic. We are all privileged to be able to play a part in it.”

And amid expectations of a bitter fight to the end, both campaigns set out their battle lines.

Alistair Darling, of the Better Together campaign, declared: “Alex Salmond will say and do anything to win the referendum. He is putting his own place in history ahead of the interests of Scotland.

“Every day, more and more experts are lining up to expose his assertions for the fantasy that they are. We have a tough fight on our hands. However, I am confident that we can use the next 12 months to win the arguments and win the referendum.”

Meanwhile, Blair Jenkins, of the Yes Scotland campaign said: “We know we have a lot of hard work to do over the next 12 months, but we are up for the challenge. I believe that, instinctively, the people of Scotland want a different direction of travel from the route being followed by an out-of-touch and remote Westminster with its austerity agenda and attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.”

Martin Boon: Charm offensive may go into overdrive, but it’s family finances where the battle will be won or lost

One year to go until Scotland makes its historic decision; events thus far might be no more than teasing political foreplay compared to what must follow – a full-blown liaison between leading protagonists on both sides of the debate and the target of their lusty affection: you, the Scottish voter.

Many Scots are yet to be seduced by these political charms of course – as it should be this far out in such a monumental campaign. One recent poll put the “don’t know” figure as high as 28 per cent, while the ICM/Scotsman poll out earlier this week scaled them back a touch to 19 per cent. But that’s still one in five Scots who are being demure, and while pollsters often conclude there is a strong correlation between someone saying they don’t know how they will vote and them failing to actually turn out in an election, both sides will still be keen to convince the genuinely undecided that their cause is the more attractive.

We might remember that in Britain’s most recent experience of a referendum we saw the Yes to the Alternative Vote (AV)campaign’s potentially winning share of 59 per cent at the outset slide to a 32 per cent defeat by the end. The challenge now for both sides is to outline their case and convince the electorate of its value, and on this let’s take a further lesson from the AV precedent. At the time, commentators believed that it would be harder to defend the first-past-the-post status quo than promote the shiny and exciting new AV system.

This was nonsense. What the public want is to have a case proven to them – for the Yes camp to win they must convince Scots that independence will result in tangible economic growth and improvements in household finances. That clear lesson was in our Scotsman poll: prove that independence would generate an extra £500 per household and victory looks assured; take £500 off each household and Scotland certainly stays a devolved nation.

• Martin Boon is a director for pollsters ICM


Today - One year to go

November - Referendum bill, providing legal standing, to be passed by Scottish Parliament

November - Scottish Government to publish its white paper on the nature of an independent Scotland

December - Queen to give Royal Assent to the referendum bill

Spring 2014 - Labour and Conservatives expected to detail their plans for devolution in the event of a No vote

June - European elections to be held

June - immediately followed by the start of the “regulated period”, the 16-week phase running up to the vote when rules governing limits on donations begin

July - Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

August - Holyrood will return to business as a one-off for a three-week spell, beginning on the 3 August. It then goes into recess on 23 August for the referendum period

Late August - Pre-referendum period begins, 28 days before the poll. During this “purdah” period, no government publications will be allowed. Both campaigns will be allotted the same TV broadcast times

Thursday 18 September, 2014 - polling day.

Scottish voices

“The motto here [in Clydebank] is ‘strength in unity’. I’ve always been very conscious that I’m a Unionist, not a Nationalist. I think it is in-born.”

Rhona Young, 84, retired sub-postmaster from Old Kilpatrick, near Clydebank

“We have a Scottish brand and a British brand. It is just a much stronger offering. This isn’t about us being negative about Scotland. When you can have the whole cake, why run off with just a bit of it?”

Ruth McKay, 32, marketing expert from Edinburgh

“I guess for the man in the street it’s straightforward – am I better or worse off? The fear of the unknown is formidable so for me its up to the SNP to deliver the burden of proof that the answer is better – no small challenge.”

Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur

“It’s entirely possible to be a patriotic Scot and be wholly at ease with being British. There is more than one way of being British – whether you feel English, Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish first, you can be British too without contradiction.”

Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign

“Too many of the economic policies run by the UK are for the south-east of England. It’s a bit like a family. If you have an elder sibling you can’t get a word in edgeways and you can’t speak up for yourself.”

Tony Banks, entrepreneur

“We have the people, the talent and the resources to make a success of running our own affairs. All we lack at the moment are the political and economic tools to do the job.”

Alex Salmond, First Minister

“I still haven’t made up my mind because I am not getting the answers that are required. We don’t want scare tactics. I just want some honesty from both campaigns.”

Jeanette Piper, retired, East Kilbride

“My personal view is that the country will be poorer initially. But that is a price worth paying for self-determination.”

Stuart Crawford, former lieutenant colonel in the army

“At the moment it’s a bit like watching two separate Michael Moore films, each one ramming their argument down our throats. I’ll keep asking questions and try to make up my mind but I’m holding out hope that people will stop frothing at the mouth over the subject long enough to help me decide.”

Craig Parker, musician with the band Make Sparks


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