Four years ago today, I woke to the unwelcome news that Scotland had rejected independence. I knew polling was tight and that whatever outcome it wouldn’t be a decisive margin for either.
Brexit or ‘leaving the EU’ had a tighter margin of victory in 2016.
The similarities afterwards in terms of ‘buyer remorse’ or ‘no to yes’ are remarkable, even in terms of anecdotal tweets or other social media messages.
Somehow, or in some way, voters perceived their vote in a yes/no or remain/leave referendum as to be conveying something else.
Somehow, a block of Scottish voters thought ‘No’ meant things like More Devolution or near home rule or greater powers.
Somehow, a block of leave voters thought their vote was a vote for more money for the NHS or was to protest immigration.
The numbers have been shown in polling and again in terms of Brexit as being something that people misunderstood, from how little EU membership costs them, to why existing powers regulating immigration and people’s rights to live and work in U.K. weren’t used by successive governments.
I’m sure no one in Northern Ireland believed the terms of the Good Friday agreement could be overturned.
I’m sure no one believed that an exit to the EU would see the value of the pound plummet immediately after the vote making buying goods in euros or from the eurozone more expensive.
Now, in Scottish terms, yesterday and today saw a succession of social media posts from Unionists (British Nationalists in Scotland) heralding that four years ago, Scotland voted to remain in the U.K. and mostly all used the phrase ‘once in a generation’ vote.
Adherents to Brexit used the same term to describe their victory in the Brexit referendum.
Politically there are some that might have both view points as part of their right wing views.
The Scottish public hasn’t celebrated ‘We voted No day’ or made a particular significance of doing so.
There’s perhaps, a realisation of what happened after the vote and how Holyrood only gained marginally more powers rather than the ‘near home rule’ promised by some.
There’s a realisation that voting No, ironically for some to stay in the EU, lead down the line to ultimately leaving the EU.
Particularly affecting EU nationals who were allowed to vote on Scottish independence but not on the U.K. remaining in the EU.
So, can either vote be a ‘once in a generation’ event?
Put quite simply no. Neither ballot paper committed the voter to hold their opinion made on that day indefinitely.
In terms of events and press coverage and progress, Brexit hasn’t yet delivered a clear proposal or path.
All that has been clear is the creation of a rift in relations with Brussels rather than a clever plan that is of benefits to British Citizens.
Research papers made to House of Commons Library, House of Lords Library, London Assembly Research body , Welsh Assembly research body, Scottish Parliament information centre, all say much the same thing in terms of the economic effect in short and middle term period on Brexit.
These are compiled by the body’s independent researchers as information for all parties attending that parliament or assembly and cannot be seen as politically motivated for one party or one side of a debate.
It’s a view that a reasonable man can take and place in context of the advise that is out there.
Additionally all professional and trade magazines talk of issues and difficulties for the U.K. whether in terms of implementing or successfully carrying out the necessary changes that Brexit would need.
So, is Brexit a material change in circumstances that could be reasonably expected at the time that Scottish voters considered independence in 2014?
No, they were presented with a vote for No being for stronger safer devolution and as a vote to stay in the EU.
Of course, buyers remorse is a known factor after referendums and yes, people can be misinformed or can misinterpret the information as presented to them.
So, can any referendum really be ‘once in a generation’?
No. It would be impossible to ensure every elector or voter had the same level of information or understanding at the time of the referendum.
It may only be through information shared after the event in the news media or otherwise that would make someone change their mind.
Influence works in different ways, so using the ‘once in a generation’ phrase to describe the Scottish Independence Referendum is in itself slightly false and a way to politicise the result.
Especially in the context of the EU referendum as many voters believed staying in the U.K. union would mean that Scots were in the EU. It was a strong statement made by Better Together.
Brexit is a material change and if implemented in the form proposed could be quite detrimental to the interest of many Scots and especially given the way that the Brexit vote went in Scotland with well over 60% remain.
So, will Westminster grant a ‘People’s Vote’?
Will Holyrood determine a second referendum is required?
Whatever happens may lay to rest ‘once in a generation’ when referred to a referendum and see that the public’s interest is ensured by confirming or otherwise decisions made previously on a one off basis.