Salmond could use 'Devo Max' to win Scottish independence
Alexander Elliot Anderson "Alex" Salmond is a highly intelligent strategist, keen reader of opinion polls and a skilled negotiator of many political battles.
Given that, how can it be that in recent days following the announcement of the general terms that will make up the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum the UK media are gleefully proclaiming that “David Cameron outwitted Alex Salmond” (Kevin Maguire for example writing in the Daily Mirror over Salmond’s apparent “mistake” in agreeing a one-question ballot). Maguire further opines “The Prime Minister played the First Minister like a fiddle to secure a one-question referendum on Scotland’s future”.
What Hope “Victory For Salmond” In A One Question Referendum?
Opinion polls in 2012 clearly point to a convincing defeat in store for Salmond in a single question referendum. When asked in the most recent TNS-BNRB poll whether they agreed or disagreed “that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state”, support was at 28% with 53% opposed.
Even those polls that have asked the SNP’s contentious preferred question option, look bleak for Salmond (see below result from Ashcroft Polling's exploration of the different question wordings, question one is the SNP’s preferred choice).
Furthermore, even younger voters - that Salmond has been so keen to enfranchise in the referendum (perhaps caught up in “TeamGB fever”) are currently also unconvinced.
In the TNS-BNRB poll (published 08/10/12) linked above, only 37% of 18-24 year-olds supported the independence proposal, compared to 42% against.
Has Salmond Taken Leave of His Senses?
So what is the former winner of the Spectator’s political strategist of the year playing at? Is Alex Salmond staring down the barrel of a death-or-glory Independence defeat for himself and the SNP? Has “Wee ‘Eck” lost his mind?
Survation (for the The Mail on Sunday) were the first opinion-polling company this independence cycle (in January 2012) to speculate what the potential referendum questions might be and poll their support.
Asking “Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming an independent country, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom?” came back with “Support” 26%, “Oppose” 46% and “Undecided” 27%. Removing the “undecided” responses from this and you see about a 63% / 36% split against independence, pretty identical to what almost all polls that include both the word “independent” and some variant of “separate from the rest of the United Kingdom” in the question have been showing this last year.
Initially it has seemed to us that given the unpopularity of what many would deem aspects of “true” Independence - like leaving the United Kingdom, establishing full monetary independence, and having a distinct head of state - Salmond would push for the “Devo Max” option to be added to the ballot paper.
Devo Max had been an evolving term meaning different things at different times but in general, full fiscal autonomy – Scotland receiving full tax revenue and most spending powers (but not for example defence and foreign policy) without full independence.
Many aspects of the now defunct “Devo Max” additional question option are rather popular. For instance compare the following two questions, both asked by YouGov in a poll 12-15th January 2012:
Devo Max Example 1:
Scots Prefer To Keep Defence & Foreign Policy With The United Kingdom:
I AGREE that there should be a further significant devolution of all financial matters to the Scottish Parliament while Defence and Foreign policy remain reserved UK issues:
YES, I AGREE 58
NO, I DO NOT AGREE 42
I AGREE that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state
YES, I AGREE 39
NO, I DO NOT AGREE 61
So, if the popular “Devo Max” aspects that may have drawn a favourable referendum response, are not included as an option on the ballot paper and the straight IN/OUT question is unlikely to deliver a majority opting for “out” how can the SNP possibly architect a “win” in the 2014 referendum?
Simply put, Salmond will make it clear to the Scottish electorate (and he has quite some time to do this) that ticking the box for “Independence” is not actually that different to ticking a hypothetical “Devo Max” option. With “Devo Max” off the table, this exercise may actually be a little easier (to blur the electorate’s mental division between the two).
When independence isn’t independence..
Retaining the pound sterling (and implied monetary union) are particularly popular issues that Salmond has already decided to make integral parts of his “independence” campaign. Similarly, support among Scots for retaining the Queen is high, and it is reasonable to assume that this group includes many of those tempted to vote for independence who would prefer to retain the Monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as by far the most popular candidate for Scottish head of state:
Scots Reject Jacobite Suggestion In Favour of Queen Elizabeth
And thinking about if Scotland were to become independent of the rest of the UK, do you think Scotland should…?
“Keep Queen Elizabeth II as the Scottish monarch” – 46%
“Replace Queen Elizabeth II with the closest decedent [sic] of Charles Edward Stuart as a new Scottish monarch” - 3% (Survation note - this would be Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern (aka His Royal Highness, The Duke of Bavaria)
“Replace Queen Elizabeth II with someone else as a new Scottish monarch” – 1%
“Not have a monarchy at all” – 41%
The SNP have been increasingly using the line that the “United Kingdom(s)” will still exist post-independence, because the Queen would still be retained in Scotland.
This is perhaps drawing on the results of the Populus/Ashcroft polling referenced earlier which showed that support for independence dropped by a significant margin when contrasted with remaining “part of the United Kingdom”, an approach that could be characterised as the SNP trying to have their “United Kingdom” cake and eat it at the same time.
Defence and The Eurozone
Other changes in the future of Scotland put forward recently by the SNP have included remaining a NATO member, perhaps renegotiated along nuclear-free and non-international aggression lines.
Potentially more critical is the consideration of the rise of Euro-scepticism in the UK. The SNP will have conceived historically that adopting the Euro and membership of the Eurozone were desirable future outcomes for a Scotland outside of the UK. Scots, like the rest of the UK population currently have a limited desire to form a closer union with the Eurozone given it’s financial instability.
Pushing for Eurozone membership without adopting the Euro may also be technically not possible. Olivier Bailly, a senior spokesman for the EC, has gone on the record to say that “a country that leaves an existing member state would be treated as an “accession state” instead of inheriting EU membership”. Meanwhile Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission has said that any new nation state will have to apply for membership under international law. This would mean a separate Scotland having to sign up to the Euro under current rules for "accession states".
These issues will have to be worked around, but don’t expect “Yes to independence” referendum campaigners to talk of joining the Eurozone regardless of whether this would mean Euro adoption.
The Psychological Meaning of Voting For “Independence” by 2014?
If in 2014, Scottish voters are presented with a ballot paper with the following implied meaning (having been re-assured over two years that the prickly aspects of “true” independence are not on the table):
The Scots, may actually vote yes. It would be interesting to poll such a question, which would seek to attempt to be a future look into the 2014 referendum ballot paper and how “independence” is spun to the electorate.
Don't Bet Against The Burly Ballsy Master Tactician
Given “Independence” can, be seemingly stretched to mean almost anything that separatist actors want it to mean, betting that “burly, ballsy master tactician“ Alex Salmond and the SNP will “lose” this moving-target referendum would at this stage, be a highly risky business.
Damian Lyons Lowe
(with input from Patrick Briône )
Follow Damian Lyons Lowe on Twitter @damiansurvation