THINK back to October 15, 2012, ten years ago this month. Headline news was the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement. This historic treaty was the culmination of a negotiation that took several years and had many twists and turns. In the end, both governments signed up to an accord based on democratic values.

Then Prime Minister David Cameron and his Scottish Secretary Michael Moore arrived to blue skies and autumn sunshine to meet the then First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh for the ceremony.

At a press conference afterwards, Sturgeon and Salmond stood side by side a lecterns marked with the Saltire. Salmond waved the document at the assembled journalists, saying: “It paves the way for the most important decision our country of Scotland has made in several hundred years.”

A video from the day shows a confident Cameron, with Edinburgh’s North Bridge in the background. An Ipsos Mori poll that week showed support for independence at 28%.

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Asked what he had got in return for giving Salmond control of both the date and who could vote in the poll, Cameron replied: “What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo-max, a very simple, single question that has to be put before the end of 2014, so we end the uncertainty.”

Ironically, Salmond and Sturgeon did not want a third question either. But saying they were prepared to accept one, a proposal initially made by Scottish Labour, opened up a negotiating strategy for the SNP. From Cameron’s point of view, giving in gracefully was part of his pitch to Scotland – that the country was being treated with respect.

By that point, pressure for a referendum on Scottish independence had been building since at least 2007, when, for the first time, the SNP became the largest party at Holyrood, leading a minority administration.

In 2008, Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander took her party on a screeching U-turn.

On BBC Scotland’s Politics Show, with no warning, she declared: “Bring it on”. Later, she clarified her position, saying she supported a referendum on Scottish independence if it also had a question on more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Alexander believed a No vote would leave the SNP rudderless and lead to Labour regaining power in Scotland.

She was certain that the middle option of more powers would win the ballot, and felt that support was rising for independence so there was no point in waiting.

But Scotland’s Unionist establishment was furious. Alexander was immediately denounced for “misjudgement and political naivety”.

Leaks – possibly from within the Labour Party machine – led to claims that donations had not been properly declared. Alexander resigned just a month later.

The National: Former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander paid the price for backing an independence referendumFormer Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander paid the price for backing an independence referendum

THE SNP went into the May 2011 Scottish election with the top line on the manifesto being a promise to legislate for a referendum on independence.

The balance of support was such that they took 53 constituency seats – 9 fewer than they were to win in the 2021 Holyrood election.

But they still were able to gain 16 additional members on the regional list vote.

The upshot was that the SNP ended up with an overall majority of 69 out of 129 members in a system that was designed to make that all but impossible.

The Conservative/LibDem coalition in charge at Westminster decided to bow to the inevitable.

In January 2012, the coalition government published the Scotland’s Constitutional Future document.

In it, Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg wrote: “We will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence: the future of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom is for people in Scotland to vote on.”

Legal opinion was divided about the legal standing of an agreement between two UK institutions. Was it a treaty or a contract – or something in between?

Previous post-colonial treaties had been made with governments that were regarded as states-in-waiting. The Edinburgh Agreement did not fit the bill as a contract either.

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Christine Bell, professor of constitutional law at the University of Edinburgh, wrote: “Paradoxically, the [Edinburgh] Agreement may have been presented so formally precisely because it had no binding legal status.”

The signing at St Andrew’s House was so ceremonial for a reason.

It was essentially the start of a political campaign. Both parties had an interest in being seen to uphold democratic values and the rule of law, in the eyes of their own citizens, and of the world.

The SNP wanted to present themselves as a credible national government while the UK Government’s case was that Scotland was a valued partner in a Union of equals.