A new poll, reported in the Scotsman newspaper, shows an increase in the support for independence amongst voters, with the majority plumping for “devo-max”:
“The survey suggests 38% of people would vote to take Scotland out of the UK which is up three points from a poll in August.
A total of 57% of respondents were against breaking away from the UK with 5% still unsure.
Among those saying they are certain to vote, 68% back the second option, known as “devo-max”, up one point from August, 28% do not back it and 4% are unsure.
The poll follows survey results last week which showed the SNP is twice as popular as Labour.”
In political and constitutional terms “devo-max” is a slippery concept. It’s generally taken to mean the maximum devolution of political, economic and judicial powers to Edinburgh without full independence. However, exactly where the line on “full independence” would be drawn is open to debate. As more than one writer has speculated there are versions of the devo-max option that would see Scotland in a constitutional arrangement that in a few short years of use would be virtually indistinguishable from independence.
Scottish voters could vote devo-max but get independence without anyone even noticing it.
Likewise, no one is sure what rules will govern the referendum on Scottish sovereignty when it is held. It seems likely to have more than a simple “Yes” or “No” question on full independence. Several questions are possible. All of which would helpfully muddy the waters for the SNP – and not so helpfully for Nationalists of the Greater England variety. Additionally it may be a proportional referendum, with voters asked to number their choices in order of preference. That could certainly lead to some interesting results.
For instance, those voting “Number 1” for Independence would be very likely to also vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (on the basis that if we don’t get full independence at least we 90% of it).
Many of those voting “Number 1” for Devo-Max would likely also vote “Number 2” for Independence (since I’ve gone this far in voting Devo-Max, I’m obviously dissatisfied with the current UK status-quo so why not give my second preference to Independence?).
With those voting “Number 1” for the UK-status quo the Independence choice is a highly unlikely option to make, so while some might vote “Number 2” for Devo-Max (better 90% of the way than the full 100%) most will probably go no further than their first choice.
In these circumstance a significant vote for Devo-Max looks likely, with Independence a strong second, and the current constitutional arrangement a poor third. A carefully worded and organised form of maximum devolution could then give the Scots the independence that many seek in the space of a few years as the new arrangements evolved and grew. There is certainly precedents for this throughout European history (not least in Ireland).
However, proportional votes are a funny old thing, even in referenda. They can produce the most unexpected results with late swings or sudden surges changing outcomes dramatically. Given the circumstance above, it is not entirely outside the bounds of possibility that enough first and second preference votes for independence could in fact produce just that. Especially if Unionist voters abstain from going beyond their preferred choice.
So which long game is Alex Salmond and the SNP leadership looking at?
- Politics News: Independence boost for Alex Salmond as new poll shows rise in support (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- Over half of Scottish population still against independence – poll – Scotsman (scotsman.com)
- The polls point to Independence (burdzeyeview.wordpress.com)