Scotland's referendum: are there parallels between now and 2011 ?

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Polls before the 2011 election showed the SNP on the way out, but the SNP ended up winning. Could public opinion shift in such a way for the referendum?

It’s exactly two months until Scotland’s independence referendum, where Scots will be asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

We have reached a point where campaigning will intensify and the word ‘scaremongering’ will be thrown around even more by both Better Together and Yes Scotland. An interesting observation can be made about this point in the campaign, but whether this stands up to any scrutiny will only be able to be judged in retrospect.

The 2007 Scottish election is remembered for the SNP’s victory and the subsequent minority government. But the 2011 election is remembered for: firstly the first majority government at Holyrood, and secondly, two months before the election many political pundits and pollsters argued that Labour would win the most seats, something that did not happen. Instead the SNP remained in power.

Indeed, the poll that highlighted this future for Scotland was a TNS-BMRB, which showed that for the constituency vote, 29% would go to the SNP and 44% to Labour - a double digit lead. As for regional voting the poll showed 29%, again, for the SNP and 39% for Labour. The survey’s end date was the 2nd of March 2011, two months and three days before the SNP stormed to victory in Edinburgh.

However, in the weeks following this poll it became clear that support for Alex Salmond’s SNP was beginning to surge in support. The party took the lead for the first time in months in the polls: on the 28th of March a YouGov poll placed the SNP at 40% and Labour at 39%, for constituency votes.

The SNP then went on to win an historic victory on 5th May with 69/129 seats, 45% of the constituency votes and 44% of regional votes.

I am not for one second claiming that due to an election for Holyrood all of three years ago that history will repeat itself and Yes Scotland will automatically win the referendum. This is for four main reasons:

An election is entirely different from a referendum.

Additionally, the 50% turnout in 2011 is much lower than the anticipated turnout for September’s referendum.

Furthermore, and most importantly, the referendum is a binary choice of either for or against independence (excluding the different ranges of extra powers proposed by the Better Together parties for after the referendum). Yet at the same time it is not a choice between the SNP and the union. The Scottish Greens are also in favour of independence, as well as different people from all parties, and even some SNP voters are not in favour of independence.

And of course this referendum will affect Scotland permanently, whereas the government and sitting MSPs can be voted out in elections.

But such a turnaround of public opinion - if polls from three years ago are to be believed - demonstrates that anything is possible. And considering the high percentage of 'don't knows' in the polls, it is perhaps quite probable. These next two months are crucial for campaigners on all sides of the debate.

With 28% of Labour voters at the 2011 Holyrood election saying they will choose independence in September, which is up from previous figures, according to the latest TNS Survey, and with polls showing a narrowing gap, Scotland’s future still hangs in uncertainty.

It is possible that public opinion will change with a majority in favour of independence, and it would not be surprising if a poll in the coming months showed this.

But only on the morning of September 19th will we be able to tell if history has repeated itself. Only then, we will know Scotland’ future.