OBSERVARE
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 6, n.º 2 (November 2015-April 2016), pp. 44-60
THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 2014:
THE POLITICAL PROCESS BEFORE AND AFTER THE ‘NO’ VOTE
Sandrina Ferreira Antunes
santunes@eeg.uminho.pt
Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations and Public Administration at the
Universidade do Minho (Portugal) and scientific fellow at the Department of Political Science at
the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). She holds a Bachelor Degree in International
Relations (Universidade do Minho); a Master’s Degree in Political Anthropology (Universidade do
Minho) and a Ph.D. in Political Science (Université Libre de Bruxelles). She preferentially works
on regionalist and nationalist movements in Europe. She has a particular interest in evolutionary
forms of para-diplomatic activities and changing activities of regional offices in Europe. She is
also interested in devolutionary, federalist and regionalist processes within all categories of
political systems. Beyond academia, she is a scientific collaborator at the Instituto Galego de
Análise e Documentação Internacional (IGADI) in Galicia and at the Centre Maurits Coppieters
(CMC) in Brussels. The CMC is a think tank sponsored by the European EFA group at the
European Parliament that promotes research on regionalism and nationalism in Europe.
Abstract
On 18 September 2014, Scottish voters narrowly rejected political independence, losing
44.7% to 55.3%. Yet during more than 16 weeks, two opposing campaigns Yes Scotland
versus Better Together strove to convince Scotland that political independence versus
keeping the Union was the best choice for Scotland’s future. Filled with many unexpected
moments, the campaign was intense, vibrant and almost breath-taking. The purpose of this
article is to deliver a coherent and consistent account of the Scottish campaigns in order to
make sense of the Novote. In this article, we will proceed in four sections: first, we will put
the referendum in context; second, we will highlight major aspects of the campaigns; third,
we will bring the political process up-to-date and clarify the terms of the agreement reached
under the Smith Process. Finally, in the last part, we will summarise the lessons to learn
from the political outcome of the referendum.
Keywords:
Scottish referendum; Scottish campaigns; Scottish politics; political independence
How to cite this article
Antunes, Sandrina (2015). The Scottish Referendum 2014: the Political Process Before and
After the “No” Vote’. JANUS.NET e-journal of International Relations, Vol. 6, N.º 2,
November 2015-April 2016. Consulted [online] on date of last visit,
observare.ual.pt/janus.net/en_vol6_n2_art04
Article received on 21 April 2015 and accepted for publication on 1 October 2015
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 6, n.º 2 (November 2015-April 2016), pp. 44-60
The Scottish Referendum 2014: the Political Process Before and After the ‘No’ Vote
Sandrina Ferreira Antunes
45
SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 2014:
THE POLITICAL PROCESS BEFORE AND AFTER THE ‘NOVOTE
Sandrina Ferreira Antunes
Introduction
On 18 September 2014, the Scottish decided to stay in the United Kingdom, with
55.3% voting for the motion and 44.7% voting against (Curtice, 2014a). After a record
turnout of voters, Scotland overwhelmingly rejected political independence with 55.3%
of Scotland voting to remain in the 307-year-old union. During more than 16 weeks,
two opposing campaigns Yes Scotland versus Better Together strove to convince
Scotland that political independence versus staying in the Union was the best choice for
Scotland’s future. Regardless of the final result, the campaign was intense, vibrant and
almost breath-taking (Antunes, 2014: 1).
The purpose of this article is to deliver a coherent and consistent account of the
Scottish campaigns in order to explain how ‘did it all happen’. In order to do so, we will
proceed with four section: first, we will put the referendum in context; second, we will
highlight major aspects of each side of the campaigns; third, we will bring the political
process up-to-date and clarify the terms of the agreement issued by the Smith
Commission (Smith Commission, 2014). Finally, in the last part, we will summarise the
lessons to learn from the political outcomes of the third Scottish referendum.
Since we are dealing with recent political events that lack strong evidences in the
literature, our research will be based on scientific analysis presented by the Centre on
Constitutional Change1
since the beginning of this process and even before the
referendum. Additionally, these pieces of research will be further reinforced by the
analysis of relevant official documents issued either by Scottish political parties
involved into this political process or by the British government. Finally, opinion polls
collected before and after the referendum will allow us to explore relevant aspects of
our argument at particular moments of the article. To conclude, by the means of a
systematic analysis of these elements, we hope to deliver an interesting and rigorous
account of the Scottish campaigns.
1 In http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/.
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 6, n.º 2 (November 2015-April 2016), pp. 44-60
The Scottish Referendum 2014: the Political Process Before and After the ‘No’ Vote
Sandrina Ferreira Antunes
46
1. Scottish referendum put in context
The referendum was suggested by the Scottish National Party (SNP) in May 2011, as
the party achieved a majority in government with 47% of the votes. However, the
political debate started only as two opposing campaigns Yes Scotland versus Better
Together which came into play in May and June 20122
pro-Union
respectively. Whereas Yes
Scotland campaigned for the independence of Scotland and was supported by the SNP,
Better Together’s Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialists campaigned for the
‘No’ vote, supported by the three political parties in Scotland: Scottish
Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Scottish referendum 2014: how did we get here?
As we look back in time, we realise that Scotland has already had two referendums on
self-governance (one in 1979 and another in 1997), but at that time the SNP was not a
major political player in the Scottish political arena (Lynch, 2002). Moreover, although
opinion pools prior to the first referendum appeared to suggest that the ‘Yes’ vote
would win comfortably (McGarvey and Cairney, 2008: 33), the Yes campaign was
divided by a lack of cooperation among those parties in favour. If on the one hand, the
SNP was lukewarm, with the party fearing that unqualified support may be seen as a
sell-out by the fundamentalists within the party (Finlay, 2004: 338), on the other hand,
the Scottish Labour Party was divided on the issue with many Members of Parliament
(MPs) joining with Conservatives in the ‘No’ campaign. Overall, the ‘No’ campaign
appeared to be better organised and more coherent than those urging for a negative
response coalesced under one clear message. The Yescampaign in contrast appeared
divided and incoherent, with two separate campaigns run by and excluding the SNP.
The referendum held on 1 March 1979 had a slim majority of 51.6% voting in favour
(versus 32.9% against), with the required 40% threshold not being achieved
(McGarvey and Cairney, 2008: 33).
In September 1997, a second referendum on the proposal for a Scottish Parliament
with tax-varying powers was held on the basis of Scottish Labour’s (SL) proposal in
1997 (Hassan, 2009; Hepburn, 2006: 233) and unlike the first devolution referendum,
the Scotland Forward’s Campaign saw an unprecedented level of co-operation between
the three main Scottish parties. In other words, the Scottish Labour Party, the Sottish
Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote, which
many hailed as evidence that the new Scottish politics could, and should, break the
adversarial Westminster mould. The result of the referendum can be seen as reflecting
this consensus with an overwhelming endorsement for the ‘Yes’ campaign. With a
turnout of over 60%, 74.3% of Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament and 63.5%
voted for tax varying powers. Even though the poll was slightly lower than in 1979, the
result definitively demonstrated the settled willof the Scottish People. The UK quickly
passed the relevant acts to establish a devolved Parliament for Scotland, with the
Scotland Bill being far more extensive than that proposed in 1979. Foreign affairs,
defence and social security were powers retained by We