The opinion polls tend to ask the big question (how will you vote in the referendum?) along with a number of supplementary questions. I noticed that one of the recent polls asked a supplementary about when, if there was a ‘no’ majority, the next referendum might be held. Although a fair number of people answered along the lines of ‘not in my lifetime’, or ‘not ever’, it seemed to me that the majority were of the view that a re-run would happen fairly soon. This lead me to wonder whether the referendum next month might not turn out, in the long run, to have been a rehearsal for a clear-cut, decisive poll at a later date. There are perhaps at least three reasons for this:
- The process of the present referendum has been deeply flawed, in terms of the inadequacy and bias shown by the mainstream media. I think that many people were surprised by this, and expected a more creative and even-handed approach. However, there has not been enough time, during the period of the referendum, to build a sufficiently influential network of alternative sources of information, particularly in respect of non-internet users
- The Yes campaign is widely perceived as a product of the SNP and the Scottish government, because that was its original source. It has evolved, however, into a much broader grassroots movement. Second time round, it could make a huge difference to define it as a grassroots movement from the outset.
- The Better Together campaign has been characterized by threats and false information. Conversely, one of the strongest arguments for the Yes campaign, has been the position that things will get worse following a No vote. It is hard to persuade people of the validity of either of these propositions at the present time, because people inevitably and understandably want to believe what they read in the papers, see on the TV news, and are told by trusted Labour politicans. But, if these propositions are correct, the evidence will become apparent fairly quickly following a No vote.
My own preference is for a Yes majority on 18th September, so that we can get on with the urgent business of building a better society, with as little delay as possible. What I am suggesting here is that there are some advantages, in principle, associated with a scenario in which the current referendum turns out to be a rehearsal. The main advantage is that a re-run would make it possible to create a much stronger consensus for change, along with institutions that allowed as wide as possible a range of the population to influence the change process. The risk, of course, is that the UK political elite/establishment might tighten the screws, in ways that could make it much harder to re-run the referendum at a future date.