How political mobilization can still work on substantive issues. Insights from the Scottish Referendum

Europe Bottom Up-Nr.10 | How political mobilization can still work on substantive issues. Insights from the Scottish Referendum

1. Emergence of the referendum

The Scottish referendum on independence did not emerge as a surprise in British politics. It was rather a logical step in the continuous development towards more devolution that took place since Scotland elected its first parliament after the Scotland Act 1998. The rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) helped to promote the idea of an independent Scotland and made the referendum a political idea that was firmly put on the party’s agenda in the Scottish elections in 2007 when it became part of the party’s manifesto. Alex Salmond, who became First Minister in 2007, could not yet call for a referendum at that point because of his minority government, in which the SNP held 49 of 129 seats after the general election. The SNP had to wait four more years in order to pursue its goal of an independent Scotland. In the general election of 2011 Alex Salmond was firmly re-elected and ruled with a clear majority 69 of 129 seats of the fourth Scottish government from this point on. This situation was not anticipated in the construction of the Scottish parliament. To the contrary its complex electoral structure with list and direct candidates was specifically designed to prevent majority rule by a single party, in particular the SNP. With his majority government backing the move for independence, Alex Salmond approached Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate the terms for a referendum on independence. The legal grounds for this process were framed by the Edinburgh Agreement, which was signed on 15th October 2012. This was a historic event because it showed that the British and Scottish governments officially negotiated the possibility of an independent Scotland on legal and legitimate grounds. This sets the referendum in Scotland apart from other separatist movements in Europe. Both parties agreed in the paper that the referendum is legal, legitimate, it should be legislated by the Scottish Parlament, and all parties involved would respect the outcome.