"The last thing Scotland needs is to be dragged back to the dark and divisive days of 2014" – Scottish Conservatives Twitter 27 January


THE official Electoral Commission report on the 2014 referendum called the voting “good natured”. No other country could have held such a referendum without violence occurring. Polls show more Scots want a second independence referendum than oppose it.


FAR from being “dark and divisive” the 2014 independence referendum is recognised internationally as the gold standard in holding a democratic debate. Following the 2014 referendum, the Electoral Commission – the public body that sets standards for how elections and referendums are conducted – published a detailed, official report on the conduct of the campaign.

It found: “The atmosphere in polling places was reported by police, staff and observers to be good natured throughout the day. There were some reports of incidents during the campaign and on polling day but the prospect of a widespread air of intimidation, which had been raised prior to polling day, did not materialise.”

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The singular fact regarding the 2014 referendum was that a major constitutional and cultural debate was conducted with the very minimum of violence or social disruption. The worst incident in the campaign was when an egg was thrown at Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy – certainly disrespectful but a longstanding tradition in UK elections. Six people were arrested in George Square on the night of the referendum count, after a rowdy shouting match between young, pro-Union supporters waving flags clashed with pro-independence supporters who had gathered in George Square to hear the result. But no one was hurt, and the police dealt with the incident quickly.

The National:

According to the Electoral Commission, the 2014 referendum was in fact a model of how to conduct such a democratic exercise: “We believe that the experience of legislating for the Scottish independence referendum provides, in the main, a model for the future development of referendum and electoral legislation…”

The voter turnout in the referendum was 84.59% – far surpassing normal Westminster and Holyrood turnouts. The sheer scale of active participation in the referendum suggests that it was a popular exercise in democracy. Again, according to the Electoral Commission: “The circumstances of the referendum and the campaigning tactics adopted by campaigners meant that a number of different political parties worked together to campaign for the same outcome. Both lead campaigners attracted various political parties to their cause and a large number of people who were not associated with any political party. Lots of non-party campaign groups were also established…”


ONE way of gauging the divisiveness or otherwise of holding a second referendum is to see if there is a majority in favour. In fact, all recent polling data suggests there is, though voters are split on the timescale.

A poll conducted by Survation (September 2019) for the anti-independence Scotland in Union campaign group actually showed a solid 42% of voters supported a second referendum in the next five years. Only 28% were flat opposed to a referendum ever. Note: this positive outcome emerged despite nine out of the 26 questions asked being prefaced with a leading statement: “Are any of the following statements reasons why you say there should not be another Sottish independence referendum”.

Another poll organised by the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft (August 2019) found there was a majority for holding a second referendum within two years – by 47% to 45% against, with “don’t knows” excluded. This narrow timeframe does result in a closer margin. But Ashcroft’s more detailed breakdown indicated a significant proportion of Labour and pro-EU voters supported a quick independence referendum, not just SNP sympathisers. This is proof that the debate on a second referendum is far from tribal.

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The same pro-referendum outcome is found at a UK level. A BMG Research poll conducted for The Independent newspaper (September 2019) found that 45% of people in England, Scotland and Wales believed the UK Government should allow a second referendum on the Scottish independence. Only 30% were against. With “don’t knows” excluded, the split was 60% in favour and 40% against. This is hardly evidence that the issue is majorly divisive in the UK as a whole.


IF the 2014 independence referendum was disruptive and divisive, this would have caused foreign business to delay or reject investing in Scotland, until they saw the outcome. In fact, the opposite proved true. The Edinburgh Agreement, triggering the formal start of the referendum campaign, was signed by Alex Salmond and David Cameron in October 2012. The following year saw Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Scotland reach its highest level since 1997, creating over 4000 jobs – according to the annual survey conducted by Ernst & Young, the global professional services advisor. Scotland attracted 82 FDI projects, 8% up on 2012. Of the UK nations and regions, only London did better.

But 2014, referendum year, proved just as successful for inward investment. Again, Scotland was second only to London in attracting foreign investment projects from, again according to the annual EY survey. The overall number of FDI deals secured was the third highest on record, boosted by a sharp rise in manufacturing projects. Referendum year was a particularly good one for foreign financial services companies expanding north of the Border, with five FDI projects secured. Clearly the international banking industry was not put off by the prospect of Scottish independence.


IF the 2014 referendum was as truly socially divisive as claimed, it might register in various indices of unhappiness, mental illness and social breakdown. However, it is difficult to find evidence of any specific social dislocation that can be linked to the 2014 referendum. For instance, the suicide rate in Scotland for 2014 was 659, a marked drop on the previous year when it was 746. The numbers recorded as dying by suicide have since risen again, to 753 by 2018.

Again, the divorce rate in Scotland fell rather than increased, over the period of the independence referendum. In fact, divorce numbers have been falling since a peak in 2006/7, when there were nearly 14,000 dissolved marriages. In 2014/15, the number of divorces fell sharply, to just over 9000. It has gone on falling.


The National:

Democray unites rather than divides. 

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