In Scotland, how long is a generation?

Alex Salmond said IndyRef was a 'once in a generation' event. But what does that mean?


How long is a generation?

That’s the question on the lips of many as the Scottish government continues to pursue its efforts for a second independence referendum.

In 2014, just days before Scottish voters went to the polls to vote on their constitutional future, the then First Minister and SNP Leader, Alex Salmond, declared that if Scots voted ‘no’, there would be no second vote on the subject within this ‘political generation’.

Asked on the Andrew Marr programme how he defined this, Salmond expanded:

“If you remember that previous constitutional referendum in Scotland — there was one in 1979 and then the next one was 1997. That’s what I mean by a political generation. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, this is a once in a generation opportunity for Scotland.”

We now know that as far as the SNP is concerned, that generation amounts to four and a bit years, given its desire to hold a second vote somewhere between Autumn 2018 and the Spring of 2019.

Polling by YouGov however suggests that the people of Scotland see it different. 39 per cent of respondents believe that a generation is 20 or 25 years, 13 per cent say 30 years and 10 per cent say 10 years.

The results do however show the tensions between those supporting and those opposition Scottish independence.  Although for both sides 20 and 25 years remained the most common definition of a generation, ‘Yes’ voters were more likely to argue that a generation lasted fewer than 20 yeas compared to those opposing independence (28 per cent of ‘Yes’ voters to 14 per cent of ‘No’ voters).

Commenting on the results, Matthew Smith from YouGov has observed that:

“Looking at the responses cumulatively, the point at which the majority of Scots say that a generation has passed is 25 years (this is true of both Yes and No voters). If we follow the ‘once in a generation’ logic, these results would dictate that the next Scottish independence referendum be held in 2039.”

Last year, Alex Salmond argued that it had only been an ‘estimation’ that  constitutional referendums were once in a generation.

Speaking to BBC Scotland he sought to explain his change of heart, telling the station:

“My estimation was that political constitutional referendums are once in a generation and I was making the example of 1979 and 1997 — that is why I always put it in that context every single time I said that. But of course, things have changed. And why have they changed?

“Well since the referendum there has been 56 SNP MPs elected out of 59, the Scottish government has been re-elected with more MSPs than all the Unionist parties put together in the Scottish parliament and specifically, of course, on a manifesto promise.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

See: Calls for Wales to be first “Nation of Sanctuary” for asylum seekers and refugees

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12 Responses to “In Scotland, how long is a generation?”

  1. Nine Ball

    I think a large chunk of this article has failed to copy over from the draft, because it arrives at no conclusion, and fails to elaborate on precisely what the “manifesto promise” mentioned in that final SNP quote actually was. That detail seems rather important.

    As a contributing editor, should Mr. Jacobs check that he’s edited his own article correctly, because at the moment it just reads like a aimlessly flailing bit of SNP-bashing, lacking any real content or direction.

  2. billy

    scottish independance would not be on the table for a generation if the english dominated westminster and remember what england votes for at westminster england gets no matter what the other home nations want so they voted brexit and got it ignored the views of the rest of britain so dragged scotland out of europe against the will of the scottish people as expressed in the scottish goverments manifesto then you wonder why everyone rails at englands stupidity

  3. Glesga

    The SNP are not concerned about generations only independence from the hated English. They would sell Scotland out to the Bundesbank to obtain their goal. They are very nasty and ugly people. Democracy is a loose term for them and they use it when it suits. They detest the two million Scots that voted to remain in the Union.

  4. Patricia Farrington

    The Scottish Gvmt was democratically elected in 2015 on a manifesto stating they would hold another referendum on independence if there was material change, like being dragged out of the EU against our will. We were promised that if we voted in 2014 to stay in the UK our place in the EU would be guaranteed. This has patently been ignored. Promises have been broken. Why don’t you understand these facts? Yes….we did not expect to request another referendum so soon but our Scottish Gvmt has been pushed into this position and must follow up on their promises. We are being treated abysmally by the UK Gvmt in Westminster. Our Scottish Gvmt is being ignored and this is stirring up anger against unionist political parties.
    Please stop throwing out red herrings like this ‘once in a generation’ nonsense. We now need urgently to leave the UK in order to build a Scotland we can be proud of….a Scotland where migrants are not only welcome but very definitely needed to grow our economy: and to retain our place in the EU. Our country is not like rUK we have different values and a different outlook.
    I was a committed Labour Party supporter and activist until the last Independence Referendum when Labour & LibDems joined up with hated Tories to lie to Scots: telling us we were Better Together and promising extra powers via the heinous Vow. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to leave Labour…but as has been said ad nauseam….Labour left me.

  5. RolftheGanger

    “. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, this is a once in a generation opportunity for Scotland.”

    The opinion was incorrect. Because the entirely unexpected self destructive stupidity of Brexit Without A Plan or a Clue has triggered another opportunity.

    Opportunities create potential for choice, change and improvement. Something Leftist readers should welcome. That is if they had mostly not turned into deeply Tory Labour reactionaries.

    The pioneers of one era; morph into the arch reactionaries of two political generations later. Look in the mirror anti self government reactionaries.

  6. patrick newman

    Not difficult to contruct a respectible argument on the Brexit decision and the clear intention of May to rubbish membership of the single market. Irish unity referendum – now that would be interesting!

  7. Dave

    This article is just anti-SNP garbage that completely ignores the context of the discussion regarding a second Indy ref and I say this as an English voter who would prefer Scotland to remain a part of the UK.

    Yes the SNP did say once in a generation at the time of the Indy Ref however at that time no one foresaw the UK leaving the EU. This is a huge and momentous change for the UK including Scotland and certainly given the overwhelming remain vote north of the border it is entirely reasonable to re-visit the idea of independence in light of the new circumstances. It is also worth bearing in mind that the threat of not being in the EU any more was one of the arguments used heavily by the remain side in the Indy ref.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    This is typical unionist and metropolitan media supremacist laziness. The old Project fear arguments get recycled and now we have the sophistry about the meaning of ‘generation’.

    We had someone in the Herald a couple of days ago arguing that the SNP cannot call itself the ‘Scottish NATIONAL Party’ because ‘NATIONAL’ implies everyone in Scotland.

    Perthaps Mr Jacobs should apply to ‘Private Eye’ for the post of Phillippa Space.

  9. Heidstaethefire

    Third time I’ve tried to post this. The manifesto promise was that the S.N.P would push for another referendum if a) there was demonstrable public desire for it or b) there was a material change in circumstances, the example given in that manifesto being Brexit,
    On the generation argument, Salmond, Sturgeon and indeed most of us agreed with his summation. By the Saturday after the referendum, however, it was clear that the constitutional question had not been settled. That was demonstrated by the huge jump in S.N.P. membership, and in every subsequent election.

  10. Maz

    The You Gov polling company is not a government body, it is a tory operated private company, headed up by none other than Stephan Shakespeare, former owner of the website ‘Conservative Home’ and would-be mp for Colchester. So – can someone explain to me why a ‘LEFT’ leaning organisation would use the corrupt and self-serving data from this shower of subservient, arse crawling cretins? I won’t hold my breath. Labour – WTF are you?

  11. Freddy Johnson

    Its breathtaking how the pathetic the SNP and its sad supporters can get! They have the immaturity and focus and dreams of a child. A quest for independence that has always been an anti English racist psyche however much they deny it and I live on the west coast. The institute of fiscal studies has categorically stated that even if Scotland took all revenues from income tax, oil, tourism and whiskey they would still be 7 billion pounds in the red every year and thats on top of the 14 billion already in debt due to gross SNP mismanagement and 150 billion of national debt. No more free prescriptions, no ore free university places and no more free elderly care. And to top it all as far as defence goes the UK government would pull out of Faslane at the cost of 10k jobs and withdraw contracts for Royal navy frigates being built over the next 10 years on the Clyde. Catastrophic for the country. Wake up PLEASE.

  12. Graeme Murphy

    Given that a murderer who is sentenced to life imprisonment can be released if they behave well after serving seven years I reckon that seven years is a ballpark figure for defining a “once-in-a-generation” event.

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