If the Scottish referendum result is as close as these three recent polls suggest, possibly with a very small majority for Yes, will it be accepted?
While not generally a litigiously-minded island when it comes to politics, how close does the vote have to be for Scotland to end up wrangled in a US Presidential Election Florida 2000 style series of recounts, legal challenges and delays? With reports of inaccurate registrations, this possibility of challenges to the result has already been mooted.
Even if unchallenged legally, would the UK Government let Scotland go with a friendly slap on the back, working to negotiate a deal which is satisfactory on both sides…or will it be a drawn out battle-of-wills?
Ruling out a currency union is possibly not the only red line issue for Team No. Without an undeniably strong mandate behind an independence vote, the UK Government may feel it can take a harder line on those issues.
Some members of the House of Lords have previously said there’s no reason to accept the Scottish Government timetables for negotiations. Achieving independence by the Scottish Government’s March deadline could then become difficult.
For the Scottish Government, if Yes arrives with a tiny majority, they have a further problem in how to move forwards and take the country with them? How do they reassure that near 50% who wanted something else? It’s possible that some parts of Scotland will vote Yes and others No. Bringing the nascent nation together will be challenging in that situation.
A small majority for No could have just as many problems. Would the Scottish Government attempt to challenge a close no result? No-one particularly likes winning on a technicality…but it is still winning, after all.
This week’s announcement from Gordon Brown on a timetable for legislation is interesting, and aims to answer the obvious question as to how long it would take for Westminster to do anything once the pressure of a Yes vote is off.
What it can’t answer is exactly what those offered powers would be – if they are to be delivered by the current UK Government, it’s reasonable to assume it would reflect the Conservative offering most closely. There would be little time to negotiate with the other parties. A close No vote would offer the Scottish Government the opportunity to press for a better deal, which could see that ambitious timetable become harder to deliver.
There is another logic in this move from the No campaign, beyond challenging the Yes vote, and that is to settle the matter before the General Election.
There is a growing majority of voters South of the Border against Scottish independence, but unlike No-voting Scots, they may not support more powers going to Scotland. Currently, their views are little more than background, but in a General Election the parties offering the most for Scotland may in fact risk losing support among some of the electorate. This move on the No campaign’s part cleanly puts Scotland aside as an election issue and likely guarantees that there would be no further powers promised for Scotland as part of those campaigns.
If the result is as close as predicted, whichever way it may go, the chances are that it will signal the start of a battle, not the end of one.