At the end of 2016, Public Affairs Co-op carried out its first Twitter poll. The question asked was simple Y/N – Will a second referendum on Scottish independence take place during 2017?
The answer was clear cut – Yes 22% No 78% – on a turnout of 262.
The polling took place just before the Christmas break. Despite the result we were surprised as everyone else when not long after January’s return to work, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon advised in an STV interview she had definitely no plans to hold #indyref2 in 2017.
Maybe she had seen our poll? Or perhaps not. Since then, and as a result of ‘events’ connected almost entirely with Brexit, the First Minister and others in the SNP such as Mike Russell and Alex Salmond, have continued to ramp up the rhetoric indicating that a showdown with ‘right wing Tory Brexiteers’ in London is on the cards.
Opinions vary on whether the First Minister really wants to fight a second independence referendum or if the current war of words is part of a strategy designed to extract maximum concessions for Scotland in the new post-EU world.
What is abundantly clear to anyone is that referendums are high risk and, if you are on the losing side, essentially career-ending.
Steve Richards, the political columnist and broadcaster, talked at his Edinburgh fringe show Rock ‘n’ Roll Politics last summer about politicians being enticed and even beguiled by the ‘allure of referendums’. When it goes wrong, the results are plain to see. David Cameron resigns as Prime Minister and then as an MP. While Alex Salmond remains in politics as MP for Gordon and SNP spokesperson on International Affairs and Europe, he found time before Christmas to appear in panto in Aberdeen. It’s hard to imagine the former First Minister’s acting career taking off had his Yes Scotland side won the vote in 2014. Rather than addressing the crowds at His Majesty’s Theatre, it would have been the United Nations General Assembly as the first leader of the international organisation’s newest member. Oh yes it would.
The current First Minister is a very different politician from her predecessor. She genuinely wants to see the Scottish Government do better in areas like education where recent performance has been slipping and has made it a priority for her government. Nicola Sturgeon is looking for a lasting legacy from her administration showing how it has made the lives of ordinary Scots better. The Baby Box initiative is politically smart but also reflects a real concern that if the Scottish Government is serious about tackling long-term issues around poverty and under achievement then it has to start when children are born with early interventions designed to give them the best possible start in life. Expect to see more of this in the months and years ahead.
The next big test of Scottish public opinion will be the local authority elections in May. While Labour is predicted to get a bashing in councils where they currently play a leading role, the real test will be whether the SNP advance restarts after the set back in 2016 of losing the government’s overall majority at Holyrood. If recent Scottish Conservative successes in Scottish Parliament elections continue, it will be much harder for the First Minister to claim Scottish voters are behind her as her language gets more provocative about the prospects for #indyref2.
So should we expect to see any resolution to Scottish constitutional strife and complicated relationship with the UK and EU in 2017? In short, no. Perhaps the best Scottish business and everyone else can hope for is that by the end of 2017, we will have a much better idea if #indyref2 might take place in 2018. Whether that vote takes place at all remains to be seen. What can be predicted with certainty is that the panto season of 2018 will have plenty of openings for lesser known celebrities with unexpected free space in their diaries. Including politicians.