THE BLOG

Alex Salmond Thinks a Second Scottish Referendum Is Inevitable and It May Happen Sooner Than People Think - Here's How

28/07/2015 08:51 BST | Updated 27/07/2016 10:59 BST

Alex Salmond is good value for money. There won't have been too many occasions when the former Scottish first minister has appeared in the media and not offered up a story. So it was, on Sunday, appearing on the last Andrew Marr show before the summer break.

As is traditional with the "At Home With ..."-style interviews Sunday politics shows have a fondness for, Salmond was casually dressed (a bit Ronnie Corbett telling his shaggy dog stories) and showcasing his back yard in all its verdant glory. Despite essentially trolling Donald Trump, suggesting the TV star turned wannabe US President was also good for the news men and women, it was the SNP MP's comments on the probability of a second independence referendum that generated the headlines.

salmond

Just 10 months after Scotland voted to preserve the union, Salmond's view is that another vote is "inevitable".

Why is this news? After all, the constitutional goal of the SNP is to forge a breakaway Scotland. Plus, Salmond has casually dropped a variation on the "inevitable" line in every interview since the end of last year, stripping the "new" out of "news".

Yet his comments were instructive on when another vote could take place. Unionists repeatedly make the point that the SNP trumpeted the last vote was "once in a generation". Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged there would need to be "material change" in political circumstances, even defining a "generation" as 15 years.

Salmond, though anxious to make clear it's Sturgeon's decision, was talking in the short-term, outlining three triggers for what has already been dubbed #indyref2.

"One is the refusal to deliver The Vow. The Vow was about home rule, devo to the max, near-federalism, to quote Gordon Brown. That has not been delivered - as yet, at least - in the Scotland Bill so that's an issue.

"The second issue is the one that's been cast up quite a lot, and that's the European issue. If you had a situation, a circumstance where Scotland voted to stay in the European Union in a referendum but was dragged out on the votes of the people of England, then that would be a material change in circumstance.

"And the third thing emerging of course comes out from the Budget and the welfare Bill, which is austerity. Instead of getting devo to the max, we're getting austerity to the max and that divergent view of what's right in social terms between Scotland and England is another issue which is moving things towards another referendum."

The outcome of the EU referendum is clear-cut enough, but would not emerge before the vote that is earmarked for 2017 (though could happen a year earlier). It's perhaps the other two - breaking The Vow over "devo-max" and continued austerity - where the fault-lines are more prominent.

The SNP has been clear since days after the election that the Scotland Bill to deliver devolution does not pass muster. "It falls short in almost every area," was Sturgeon's initial assessment.

What was revealing, therefore, was Salmond linking the welfare Bill to ringing the bell for round two.

As the Labour Party declared civil war, the SNP was the loudest collective voice decrying the cuts to benefits when the Bill received a second reading last week, even invading Labour's front benches and declaring itself the true Opposition. It's unlikely either the Government or the SNP will back down during the committee stage of the Bill's progress through Parliament, potentially handing nationalists the "material change" many crave.

Assuming the Bill follows a brisk time-table, the SNP would be handed the chance to promise a second vote in its manifesto for next year's Holyrood elections for the Scottish parliament, the legitimacy it needs if it is to bounce Downing Street into going the polls so soon after the last ballot. The next opportunity to secure a mandate after that? The 2020 general election.

There are a lot of "ifs".

The SNP might not win in 2016 (though the leader-less Scottish Labour Party are in pieces). Salmond may not be speaking for the party (Sturgeon said today it would be her "ultimate decision", though party spinners say there is no difference of opinion). And surely the timing has to be right, with a certainty a fresh poll will produce a vote favourable to the cause. Exploiting SNP-mania is tempting, but would Westminster allow a question that allowed nationalists to fight under a positive "Yes" banner again?

"The question is the timing," said Salmond. The answer seems to be sooner rather than later if he had his way.