The overwhelming result in favour of a second Scottish National Party (SNP) administration in the Scottish Parliament this week has placed the question of Scottish independence firmly into the spotlight. The SNP won 69 of the 129 seats available in the Scottish Parliament giving it an overall majority (in a system designed to stop any party getting one, especially the SNP). It is now guaranteed that at some point between now and May 2016 there will be a referendum in Scotland on the question of Scottish Independence. The question that now arises is what will the result of that referendum be?
It would be naive of the SNP to take their resounding vote of confidence as an indication that a majority of Scots are in support of Scottish Independence. The level of support over the last decade for independence has largely depended upon the question that is asked. Certainly in the last four years the support for independence was sitting at about 40% when simply asked if Scotland should become independent or not. However, that figure dropped dramatically to around one third when the question also gave the option for additional powers to be granted to the Scottish Parliament under the existing devolution arrangement.
Currently a Bill is going through Parliament in London designed to give the Scottish Parliament more responsibility and power, especially in fiscal matters. It would appear, based on the results of previous opinion polls, that this Bill could cut the yes vote by between 7 and 10 per cent. That of course depends on a number of factors, including whether those in that category see the Scotland Bill as devolving the right powers or enough power to Edinburgh. Others may be happy enough to sit back and watch exactly how the Scottish Parliament uses such powers before making a decision.
Certainly the Scottish Parliamentary election was a vote of confidence in Salmond’s leadership over the last 4 years. It would also appear that much of the Liberal Democrat (which is traditionally a unionist party) vote went to the SNP – why that was is not something I intend on discussing in this blog post, but rather will be discussed in another I intend on writing looking at where Labour went wrong in the 2011 election. The very fact that the SNP turned the campaign into one about Salmond and his attributes as a leader and not one on independence adds weight to the argument one can simply not take this election as an indication of the wider support for independence.
The 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 election campaigns have looked very different. With each campaign that has past we have seen differences in the way people vote in Scottish elections compared to UK elections. The Scottish electorate is an intelligent one and they are acutely aware that elections to the Scottish Parliament are not about Westminster and look at what the Scottish Parliament can do and decide which party will do the best for them with the power they have. In 2011 the electorate overwhelmingly decided that the SNP was going to do better than the other party’s.