In 2014, Alex SalmondNicola Sturgeon and the SNP agreed publicly that the independence referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime vote. So, there should not be another referendum for at least 40 years, even if the SNP wins another mandate in 2021 – various statements from Boris Johnson, Alister Jack and Jackson Carlaw.

The National:


It is true that during the independence referendum campaign, both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon used the phrase “once in a lifetime opportunity” or “once in a generation opportunity” to define the political stakes facing the Scottish electorate.

Note the foreword written by Alex Salmond to the Scottish Government’s independence White Paper (Scotland’s Future, 26 November 2013): “The debate we are engaged in as a nation is about the future of all of us lucky enough to live in this diverse and vibrant country. It is a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland - a once in a generation opportunity to chart a better way.”

However, it is abundantly clear from the context of this statement (and with others like it) that Salmond is not agreeing to some alleged, one-off constitutional device – to be used once then locked away in a cupboard for 40 years. Rather he is encouraging the Scottish electorate to seize a particular opportunity (“a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland”) to oppose austerity and make a fairer Scotland.

Nothing in this statement suggests Salmond is agreeing to close down opportunities in the future to oppose austerity or Brexit, if necessary, and no reasonable person could read that into the quote.


The Scottish Government White Paper states: “It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” Taken out of context, this could be read as the SNP Government agreeing that there could only be one referendum on independence for “a generation” (Scotland’s Future, Q&A 557). However, when read in context, the meaning is different.

The entire quote reads: “The Edinburgh Agreement states that a referendum must be held by the end of 2014. There is no arrangement in place for another referendum on independence. It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. This means that only a majority vote for Yes in 2014 would give certainty that Scotland will be independent”.

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: Ian Murray's claim about independent Scotland joining the EU

In other words, the intent of this passage is to bring to the attention of the electorate that no arrangement had been sanctioned by the Conservative Government for another referendum – or for a dispute resolution mechanism. This lack of a procedure for a second consultation becomes crucial if the vote was disputed or very close.

So, the passage stands not as a timetable rejecting a second vote for a generation. Rather it is an explicit warning to pro-independence voters that securing a majority on September 18 was vital, least the constitutional question be kicked into touch by a London administration. The necessity for such a warning has been proven correct by subsequent events.


In fact, prior to the 2014 referendum, there was a very public debate on the constitutional propriety and political possibilities of a repeated vote – especially if the result of the September 18 poll was close. The day before the referendum, The Guardian published a long piece on the subject including interviews with Vernon Bogdanor, generally reckoned to be the foremost living scholar on the British constitution.

Bogdanor is research professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King's College London and Professor of Politics at the New College of the Humanities. He is also emeritus professor of politics and government at the University of Oxford and emeritus fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford.

According to The Guardian, Bogdanor thought “a second vote after a No was not impossible”. Bogdanor offered a variety of scenarios that could trigger a second referendum on independence. First, he suggested that if there was a close No in 2014 but the SNP won “a big majority in [the Holyrood elections] in 2016” (ie a mandate) then the first minister “could say there's an irresistible force in Scotland".

Second, Bogdanor proposed a novel scenario: "Suppose [independence] negotiations aren't complete by March 2016, and, in May 2016 suppose Labour or a Labour-LibDem coalition gets in [in Scotland], it might say the terms are unacceptable and there should be a second referendum”. In other words, the No side could trigger a second vote.

Bogdanor summed up the situation pithily: "As Disraeli said: 'Finality is not the language of politics.'" The point here is that the possibility of a second referendum was clearly aired prior to the September vote.


The legitimacy of a second referendum was originally supported by David Mundell while Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cameron Cabinet. On June 26 2016, he said: "If the people of Scotland ultimately determine that they want to have another [independence] referendum there will be one.”

The National:

He added: "Could there be another referendum? The answer to that question is yes. Should there be another referendum? I believe the answer to that question is no." These remarks were made on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Politics show and subsequently widely reported in the UK press. Clearly at that point, the Secretary of State’s advice was that there was no “lifetime” or generational block on a second referendum.


On September 19 2014 – the day after the referendum - prime minister David Cameron announced that Lord Smith had agreed chair an all-party commission to decide on increased devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament; ie to implement the so-called “Vow” made by the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties made on the eve of the referendum. On 27 November 2014 the Smith Commission published its consensus report.

Chapter 2, section 18 of the final report clearly states: “It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose”. This unanimous verdict of the Smith Commission was an implicit agreement that a second referendum vote was constitutionally valid. It is hard to see the necessity of publishing such a finding if the members of the Smith Commission – a bare two months after the first vote – thought the matter had been kicked into the long grass for a human lifetime to come.


The National: National Fact Check False 

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