Having secured the SNP’s
fourth term in government last year on the commitment to hold a second
independence referendum within the first half of this parliament, the First
Minister Nicola Sturgeon doubled-down on that pledge this summer by naming a
date for the vote - October 19, 2023.
In any other reality, last
month’s passing of the “one year to go” milestone would have been met with some
fanfare, or at least a discernible increase in the volume and visibility of
both Yes and No campaigning.
Indeed, by this point in the
run-in to the 2014 vote, both Better Together and Yes Scotland had been
campaigning for more than 15 months, and the Scottish Government was putting
the finishing touches to “Scotland’s Future” - its 650-page prospectus for
Fast-forward eight years and,
less than 12 months out, no major pro-union campaigning vehicle has been
formed. And while a series of policy papers is being drip-fed out by the
Scottish Government, no definitive new prospectus for Yes has been published
The main difference between
these two referendums is of course that, following the signing of The Edinburgh
Agreement in 2012, indyref1 became assured, whereas the First Minister’s
proposed vote next autumn still is not.
The realisation of Nicola
Sturgeon’s independence roadmap will require not only a prevailing wind in the
UK Supreme Court, but beyond that no small degree of co-operation between Scottish
and UK governments to deliver a meaningful vote, if given the legal green
light. Should the court find against the Scottish Government then matters
become far trickier.
So with a major vote on the
horizon, which may or may not happen, and less than 12 months to plan, what
should businesses make of the situation?
Firstly, interested businesses
would be advised to stay tuned-in, not just to the question of whether or not a
vote will take place (where the lion’s share of media and political focus
currently lies) but also on the emerging independence proposition.
Understanding what independence might mean for an organisation’s day-to-day
operating environment and future prospects is critical to inform scenario
planning for different eventualities. Though not exhaustive, the Scottish
Government’s emerging “Building a New Scotland” series of policy papers
provides a useful starting point for this exercise.
Beyond this, when it comes to
active participation in the debate, many organisations will understandably
choose to ca’ canny, at least until it becomes clear when and if indyref2 will
happen. Indeed, even before any formal referendum campaign commences,
businesses which want to remain neutral should be mindful of the risk of being
unwittingly yoked to one side or other and take particular care in the
positions or opinions they express both internally and externally.
Of course, this should not
come at the expense of meaningful engagement on pressing matters such as the
climate crisis, cost-of-living or Covid recovery. Rather, businesses may simply
wish to exercise continued care when navigating the political terrain as the
near-term constitutional roadmap unfolds.