Scottish Referendum looks close, politicians panic and markets tumble. What if Scotland really does vote Yes?

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Following Alan Renwick’s piece (posted on this blog yesterday) suggesting Scotland could buck the referendum trend and vote Yes, Robert Hazell explores reactions to increasing uncertainty over the outcome and considers the implications of a Yes vote.

The Scottish independence referendum is now two weeks away, on 18 September. With the latest YouGov poll showing the No campaign’s lead narrowing, to just 53% against 47% it suddenly looks as though there is a real possibility that Scotland might vote for independence in two weeks’ time. This has caused panic at Westminster, it has spooked the markets, and it has finally got people south of the border thinking about the consequences, for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

First, the panic at Westminster. On 4 September the Guardian ran the remarkable story ‘PM could face calls to postpone UK election if Scots vote for independence’. The argument being advanced by some Conservatives was that Westminster should postpone the next UK election by 12 months in order to avoid the unstable prospect of a Labour government dependent on Scottish MPs, who would disappear part way through the next Parliament. The Guardian reported that

‘Well placed members of the government have already started to consult the laws on postponing elections. An Act of Parliament would have to be passed, but there are complicating factors. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, which stipulated that the next general election would take place on 7 May 2015, would have to be repealed. The House of Lords would also be able to block the legislation … One former law officer said: “Parliament can change elections, it can do what it likes. But it would be difficult.”’

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Could Scotland buck the trend and vote Yes?

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The polls have been narrowing in Scotland’s independence referendum debate. Reading’s referendums expert Alan Renwick reflects here on whether the Yes campaign really could pull off an unexpected victory.

I wrote a piece for the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago pointing out that, if Scotland’s voters follow the patterns seen in most referendums around the world, they will vote No to independence on 18th September. The polls have consistently shown a lead for No. And opinion generally shifts in the direction of the status quo in the final stage of a referendum campaign.

Since then, however, the polls seem to have shown the reverse pattern: opinion seems to be shifting towards Yes, not No. So what is going on? Could Scotland really buck the trend?

The short answer to that is, yes, of course Scotland could buck the trend – it’s only a trend. While opinion generally shifts towards the status quo in the weeks before polling day, there are also exceptions. The evidence that we have so far certainly doesn’t show that Scotland definitely will buck the trend – the polls could easily shift again. Indeed, headlines about a narrowing of their lead are exactly what No campaigners need to mobilise their supporters and remind voters that this is not a game.

But what are the mechanisms at play here? Are there plausible mechanisms that could generate a shift towards Yes in these final weeks and an unexpected win for supporters of independence? Ever since I first wrote on this subject back in January, I have argued that there are two key mechanisms to consider: reversion point reversal and the anti-establishment bandwagon.

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