A year from the Scotland referendum is a long time in politics

Polls suggest the Better Together campaign remains ahead, but for how long? Photo: David Cheskin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Scotland has been living, breathing and reading all about the referendum on independence for 18 months now. Some might also point out it is a debate we’ve been having for the last century. Certainly since the SNP came to the fore in the mid 1900s it has been slowly, very slowly, gathered speed.

But now we find ourselves a year away from a Yes or No vote which will determine whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom – potentially ending a 300 year old Union.

On 18 September 2014, the Scottish electorate, including 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time, will face the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The seat of Scotland's devolved power - the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

With 12 months of campaigning to go, the Yes campaign, depending on which poll you look at (and there is almost one a day at the moment), is currently between 15 and 30 points behind its rival the Better Together campaign. One of the most interesting polls out this week by ICM showed that if Scots felt they would be just £500 better off in an independent country then 47 percent would go for it, compared with 37 percent against. That has buoyed the SNP and their Yes campaign given they estimate every Scot would be £824 better off.

Speaking with a year to go, the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond said:

On policy areas education, health, justice and climate change, Scotland has shown the way, with innovative, popular policies which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly agree with. Westminster, in contrast, all too often produces policies which damage or hinder Scotland.

Scotland can more than afford to be a successful independent country. We have enormous advantages in terms of our human and natural resources, but we need the political and economic tools to help create a wealthier and fairer society.

– alex salmond, first minister for scotland
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon walk past a sign showing the date for the referendum Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

The Better Together campaign led by former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling may be on the front foot but they know Alex Salmond should never be written off. He is, after all, the politician who delivered a historic majority in the Scottish Parliament and who continues to have a popularity rating that David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg can only dream of.

However, polls do consistently indicate that Scotland will not vote for independence next year. Removing the ‘don’t knows’ from the equation, you generally end up with a split of around 60 percent against, 40 percent for. And looking again at the aforementioned ICM poll, if Scots felt they would be £500 worse off as an independent country the numbers supporting the Yes camp fall to just 18 percent compared with 66 percent voting to keep the Union.

Leader of the Better Together campaign Alistair Darling Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/PA Wire

What this poll makes clear, apart from the difference just £500 could make, is that for most Scottish people the crux of the argument over the next year will be about economics - will they be better off or not?

Chair of the Better Together campaign Alistair Darling said:

I believe that there is a positive case to be made for Scotland staying together with the rest of the UK. It is better for our economy, it is better for our influence on the world and it is better for us as a country if we believe that we are always stronger when we work together with our friends and neighbours.

Scotland has the best of both worlds. We have a strong Scottish Parliament making decisions on the issues that matter to us here in Scotland, but we also have the strength and security of being part of a bigger United Kingdom. It just makes no sense to walk away from a settlement that benefits us all.

– alistair darling, leader of the 'better together' campaign

The one thing people constantly say to me as we canvass opinion on the subject of independence is that they don’t have enough information. The SNP promise that will come with the publication of their White paper on independence in November, a prospectus for what an independent Scotland will look like. The Nationalists are hoping this document will be the key to turning the tide of opinion and encourage more Scots to take what one woman described to me this week as a leap of faith. A year is a long time in politics...

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