Just hours after David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed an historic agreement over the establishment of a referendum on Scotland’s future, new polling (pdf) by ComRes for ITV News showed the mountain the SNP and the YesScotland campaign have to climb if they have any hope of winning independence.
Whilst Scotland’s first minister will be hoping that, come 2014, meetings between he and David Cameron will amount to meetings between two leaders of different countries, asked by ComRes if they would support Scotland becoming an independent nation, 55% of Scottish respondents outlined their objections compared with 34% who said they would support the move.
Asked if they agreed or not with the statement: “I would support an extension of powers for the Scottish parliament but now is not the right time for full independence” – 47% agreed compared to 35% who disagreed. Such a result is likely to cause issues for the YesScotland campaign given that to win the campaign they desperately need those who would have supported so-called “Devo-Max” to be persuaded to vote for independence instead.
Fifty five per cent of Scots, meanwhile, argued Scotland’s economy would suffer if it became an independent nation compared to 32% who disagreed, a signal of the monumental task Alex Salmond now has in persuading Scottish voters independence can, economically, be made to work.
On BBC News last night, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, Norman Smith - whilst adding the caveats about the difficult polls faced by the nationalist camp - nevertheless emphasised how the SNP had so often surprised many, warning the world not to underestimate the tenacity and communication skills of Alex Salmond. That maybe true, but is this a prize that could prove to be out of the reach of the current first minister?
According to YouGov president Peter Kellner, even Salmond must know he will not be able to scale this mountain.
Dubbing Scotland as being “pro-Salmond, anti-independence”, he says of Salmond’s victory in last year’s Holyrood elections:
“By winning an outright majority, he has shot his own fox. Rather than shed crocodile tears for his inability to call a referendum, he must now put the issue to the test.
“As a shrewd and intelligent man - indeed, one of the shrewdest and most intelligent in British politics - he must know that his mission is impossible, that in two years’ time his country will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom, and that far from being achieved, independence will be deferred for at least a generation.”
Writing for The Scotsman, the paper’s political editor, Eddie Barnes, picked up on the unchartered waters both Cameron and Salmond are now navigating.
Using the image of a marriage he observed:
“Like a couple arriving for their big day, David Cameron and Alex Salmond smiled awkwardly for the cameras as they met on the steps of St Andrew’s House, neither man in the knowledge of quite where yesterday’s signing ceremony was going to end up.
“All they do know, and agree on, is that from now on Scottish politics will never quite be the same again - no matter whether it is a Yes or a No in two years’ time.”
“Messrs Cameron and Salmond didn’t know yesterday whether it will end in marriage or divorce. More likely is some civil partnership in between.”
However, for all the analysis of the history of yesterday’s events, there is a palpable sense of relief that at last debate can move on from process to issues.
Picking up on the “One Nation” theme espoused by Ed Miliband in Manchester just a few weeks ago, The Guardian this morning says of the referendum:
“Two years is too long to wait. But the deal is done. There is a rich debate to conduct now, not just in Scotland, about the best constitutional arrangements for these islands - and not least about the rights of 16- and 17-year-olds in the process. On Wednesday, the Liberal Democrats will make some proposals.
“At the weekend Mr Salmond addresses his party conference. Let us not prejudge the unfolding argument, but let the guiding star of it always be the best way of securing the good of all, just as it should be in that other One Nation debate.”
In outlining the questions the YesScotland campaign now need to answer about what an independent Scotland would look like, meanwhile, the Herald’s leader column picked up on the sense of relief.
“The document signed in St Andrew’s House yesterday amounted to a peace agreement over the terms of the referendum. It is not only political activists but also the majority of Scots who will feel a sense of relief at reaching this milestone on the long and tortuous road to a decision on our constitutional future.”
Putting the economy at the centre of the debate, the leader concluded:
“Mr Salmond won the battle over the timing of the referendum but, however attractive the prospect of a society based on Scottish values of fairness, the economy will be the deciding factor. Mr Salmond is gambling that two years will be long enough to produce enough green shoots to convince waiverers of Scotland’s potential for growth. The UK economy will also look healthier, making the prospect of further devolution more appealing.
“The skirmishing over process is ended. Let honest engagement in the real issues now commence.”