Alex Salmond is a highly persuasive and charismatic politician and on this issue was getting everything his own way, facing pathetically disorganised opposition from the other main parties in Scotland. I think forcing the issue in the way the Coalition, with Labour party support, has done this week drives the issue to the top of the agenda and opens it up to wider debate; Alex Salmond will now have to answer questions about the implications of independence and what exactly he means by devo-max.
What worries me is that this debate could go on forever. An interesting post on the excellent LSE Politics Blog (incidentally a very good example of how Universities should engage with social media) by Françoise Boucek uses the never ending debate in Canada over Quebec’s independence to show how this could end up being the case.
Most interesting I think is the observation about long term voter behaviour:
Canada’s 30-year constitutional war with French-speaking Quebec was suspended by a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the 2000 Clarity Act, denying Quebec the right to secede unilaterally. Since then, the sovereignty movement has run out of steam: support for the separatist Bloc Québécois collapsed in the 2011 federal election, leaving it with just four seats as voters simply dropped from the exhaustion of endless wrangling over national unity.
A poll by Léger Marketing last autumn showed support for Quebec independence had halved from 1995 and 1980 when referendums on ‘sovereignty association’ were held in Quebec. For 18-24 year olds in particular, support fell to 32%, suggesting that independence has become a nostalgic fixation for ageing baby-boomers. They struggle to keep the flame alive with annual rallies celebrating their near victory at the 1995 referendum that they lost by just 1%. The ‘yes’ campaign then had been in complete disarray until the charismatic Lucien Bouchard, suffering from a flesh-eating disease, intervened by appealing to Quebecers’ emotions.
If this is how it pans out in the UK, it could just be that Westminster politicians have played a blinder, dragging the SNP in to long term guerrilla warfare over referendum questions and legality of consultative referendums, that would be sustained by governments of any colour, may ultimately kill off the independence dream as younger generations lose the rose tinted glasses of the baby boomers and the “hand off our oil” argument becomes invalid as the North Sea oil fields dry up, and voters just get generally tired and fed-up with the process.