Independence Referendum

Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, has announced plans to hold an independence referendum in the autumn of 2014.

It came as the UK government insisted it needed to grant additional powers to Scottish ministers to ensure any vote is legally watertight.

So what are the main issues facing Holyrood and Westminster as the issue goes forward?

Where are the origins of the independence movement in Scotland?

The campaign for Scottish home rule began in earnest almost as soon as the unification with England took place, in 1707.

At the time, the view was that Scotland was in desperate need of financial support, but opponents of the move were outraged by claims that the Scots who put their names to the Act of Union were bribed.

Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns, famously wrote: “We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”

Fast forward many years to 1934, and the establishment of the Scottish National Party, created through the amalgamation of the Scottish Party and the National Party of Scotland.

After decades of ups-and downs, the party won its first election in 2007 and, again, in 2011.

How has the independence debate moved on – or not – in recent years?

Scottish devolution in 1999 presented a significant opportunity for the SNP, which, despite having a few MPs, was struggling to make the case for independence at Westminster.

The prime minister at the time of devolution, Tony Blair, was aware of the potential opportunity a Scottish Parliament could give the SNP.

So Holyrood’s part first-past-the-post, part PR voting system was intended to prevent any one party (ie the SNP) gaining an overall majority.

This was the case initially – up to the 2011 election there had been two terms of a Labour/Lib Dem coalition and one of an SNP minority government.

The 2011 result blew out of the water the claim once made by Labour veteran Lord Robertson that devolution would “kill nationalism stone dead”.

Could the situation now be more akin to comments by another Labour stalwart, Tam Dalyell, who described devolution as “a motorway to independence with no U-turns and no exits?”

Does Scotland want independence?

Hard to say with any great certainty at the moment – while it’s probably true to say support has grown, given the election result, a vote for the SNP does not necessarily mean a vote for independence.

Polling expert John Curtice says support for independence is somewhere between 32% and 38% – actually down from where it was at the start of the SNP’s last term in office as a minority government.

A YouGov poll conducted in April 2011 put support lower than that – at 28% – with 57% opposed.

One of the reasons voters turned so decisively to the SNP last May was because they wanted an alternative to Labour and to punish the Liberal Democrats at the polls.

There are those who do not support independence, but recognised Alex Salmond was the best candidate for first minister – knowing they had the safety-cushion of voting “No” in the referendum.

In the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999 and 2003, Labour’s plan to essentially scare people out of support for independence worked.

Now it seems the public are much less afraid, and, whether or not it’s the case that majority support for independence exists, people seem much more willing to put it to the test in a referendum.

There are also many other factors which could affect support for independence – coalition spending cuts and the ability of Scotland to thrive as a small nation during the current global uncertainty, to name but two.

In terms of political backing at Holyrood, the SNP supports independence, as do the Greens and independent MSP Margo MacDonald, a former nationalist politician.

Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are opposed.

Source: By Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland 25 January 2012