The National:

Secession or independence? Security or freedom? Status quo or letting go?

The differing words used by commentators to describe the effects of Scots independence reveal their fundamental presumptions: independence is a threat to Unionists but an opportunity for nationalists.

Our words shape our beliefs and our beliefs shape our words, and just as this is true of the independence debate, so it is true regarding the exact wording of any future referendum question. Or to put it another way, the reply to “The Scottish Question” may be influenced by the question asked.

Every pollster (and courtroom lawyer!) knows that the wording of a question affects the likely answer to that question. In research published today by Rob Ford, Rob Johns, and John Garry on the LSE blog, the authors argue that the wording of the referendum question can be crucial.

READ MORE: How the wording of indyref2's question could 'change the course of history'

With the assistance of the British Election Study the authors ran an experiment to assess the impact of three differently worded questions which could be used in Indyref2.

The three possible questions they assessed were:

1. "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" (Yes/No). The wording originally proposed by the Scots Government in 2014)

2. "Should Scotland be an independent country?" (Yes/No). The wording proposed by the Electoral commission that was actually used in the 2014 independence referendum.

3. "Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?" (Remain/Leave). A formulation based on the EU referendum of 2016.

The survey finding was that question 2 maximised the independence vote while question 3 minimised it.

The authors speculate that this might be because “the Leave/Remain wording has support from the Unionist camp: not only as a supposedly more neutral question but also as it might enable them to profit from the widespread (EU) Remain sympathies in Scotland". 

I find that explanation implausible. It seems to me unlikely that many voters would be unaware the leaving the UK opens up the opportunity of re-joining the EU.

READ MORE: 'Beyond belief': Top historian rubbishes Alister Jack's Scottish Border claim

Rather I think the diminished support for independence obtained from question 3 is to be explained because a leave/remain question puts the focus on the Union, not Scotland. The focus is placed on what Scotland would be "losing" rather than what it would be gaining, independence.

As the authors comment: "The results highlight an important structural feature of referendums as binary choices with much at stake. If voters are evenly divided, as they are currently on independence, then even seemingly innocuous matters such as the question options could change the course of a nation’s history.”

So, what are the lessons of this research for indyref2?

Firstly, wording matters. If Westminster ever does agree to indyref2 we can be sure that they will insist on the wording best designed to maximised the Unionist vote, and so it seems very likely that a “remain or leave” formulation of the question will be forced upon Scotland.

There can be little doubt that the British government's famed if secretive “Union Unit” will have read this report and noted it for future reference. Secondly, such wording may be a marginal disadvantage to the cause of independence, not least because “Vote Leave” has a rather less positive ring than “Vote Yes”.

The National: This book is not another argument for Scottish independence

Even more significantly and practically, the masses of current pro-independence materials, from websites, to t-shirts, to badges, branded “YES” would unusable in a “leave versus remain” referendum!

However, we should not despair, as the Brexiteer victory of 2016 showed it is possible to win despite the slant of the wording of a “remain/leave” referendum question. Happily, the Brexiteers have given us the perfect independence slogan: “Take Back Control."

Some might object that “take back control” is a slogan tarnished by its origin, but to them I would say this: just as the devil should not have all the best tunes, the Tories should not have all the best slogans.

Those three words express what the cause of Scots independence is all about. It is not some nasty nationalism grounded in hatred of the English, or anyone else, rather it is simply the desire of the people of Scotland to take back control of their own destiny, something that is impossible for a country that makes up only 8% of the UK’s population.

Westminster rule will forever be English rule, that is democracy. It is a simple fact that Scotland must leave the Union in order to “take back control".