Once Upon a Generation : A Unionist Fairy Tale

I was at a talk by Sir John Curtice the week after the general election last December. It was called : What Happened? What Next? A First Look at the Outcome of the 2019 UK general Election.” Lots of graphs and analysis, firstly on UK as whole and then on Scottish results, and Q&A afterwards. And by the way he has a very dry sense of humour that you don’t see when he’s doing election guru for the BBC.

Several things stuck with me after listening to him.

The first was his response to the question at 80mins in : Assuming Nicola Sturgeon asked you for advice, would you advise her to go for 2020 for Indyref2? His answer was :

1 Well, ideally of course, only hold a referendum when it’s obvious what the answer is going to be.

2. But as of now, the answer depends in part on what the opinion polls say in the next month or two. If the polls don’t start showing a Yes majority by the end of March then I’d say wait till 2021.

3. Because an independence referendum is an awful lot easier to win if, like in 1997, it’s already become part of society’s zeitgeist. In other words, stories like “there will be a run on the banks” or “every company will move south of the Border”. Those stories will be much more difficult to run because if you’ve already got a situation when independence looks likely to happen, business will start to accommodate to that. You can take that lesson from Brexit. And once independence seems inevitable you will find it much easier to pursue the case.

And then he added these three points

1. Almost inevitably the next battle is going to be a judicial battle, asking for a judicial review on holding another referendum.

2. Even if the polls don’t shift over to Yes majority, it’s not enough for supporters of the Union just to say No. They need to campaign to persuade Scots of the benefits of the Union. And he referred to a recent general election hustings which he chaired where one question was: What would be sufficient evidence for IndyRef2 mandate? There was no answer to that from the Conservative candidate.

3. And with regard to the much quoted “Once in a generation” : Sir John said strongly that this was clearly an encouragement to get out the vote, it was not a definitive statement of fact. But in any case the question that needs to be asked : Is what was said by some SNP politicians five years ago a veto on what people are saying now?

His overall summary of the election in Scotland is that independence and Brexit are now fully intertwined with each other and Brexit has strengthened the SNP vote. Here are two of his charts: summary of the Scottish vote and how Yes/No and Remain/Leave are spread over political parties in Scotland.

Have a listen to the video of the talk. Link at top of post. He talks about Labour’s inability to set out an understandable narrative in the campaign. He was asked if he thought About would have won if they had embraced Remain and his answer probably not but in any case they would have to have done that a couple of years back.

And just to remind us that saying “once in a generation” was not a statement of fact. It also wasn’t statement of fact when Jeremy Corbyn said it during the December 2019 General Election.

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