POLITICIANS tend not to like asking voters the same question twice; to go back to the public after a bad result and say, ‘Are you sure?’.
One of the more extreme examples of this came in 1997 when the Liberal Democrats won the constituency of Winchester by two votes. The Tories challenged the result and a court agreed the seat should be contested again.
The Liberal Democrats then won the resulting by-election with a majority of more than 21,000.
Loading article content
So Nicola Sturgeon must be seen to be doing all she can to make things work. Scotland’s place in Europe is a “serious” and “reasonable” compromise, she said, as she launched the 50-page book yesterday. The Scottish Government will argue for what is in the best interests of not just Scotland but the whole of the UK.
Although she talked emphatically, resolutely of her unwavering commitment to Scottish independence yesterday, it is the last option, the nuclear button. If Scots were asked the same question again, the polls suggest they’d vote as they did in 2014. (Perhaps ironically, Sturgeon pointed out that had Scots backed indy two years we wouldn’t be in this Brexit mess).
During the press conference, she was asked a couple of times, ‘why bother with these special proposals?’. If she genuinely felt independence was the best option then why not have another referendum right now. That also happens to be the line being taken by the Greens. But Sturgeon won’t put that question to voters just yet. Her priority, she says, is to act in the best interests of the people of Scotland, but she emphasised to those who might have backed No last time the scale of the democratic deficit.
If these proposals are rejected, if there is no special deal for Scotland, then, and only then, will the First Minister ask the country to vote on its constitutional future.
And if Scotland is asked that question a second time, Sturgeon argues, it will not be because of the SNP or the Scottish Government but because of the Tories. The First Minister has effectively proposed federalism. The Tories will almost certainly reject it.
That’s why Labour and the LibDems are tying themselves up in knots. They know the question has changed but their answer remains the same. That doesn’t mean Yes will win the next referendum, but it makes the choice more compelling. It will be a different question, the certainties of last time no longer applying. That suits us just fine.