Scottish Independence Odds Shaken By Sturgeon IndyRef2 Pledge

Scottish Independence Odds Shaken By Sturgeon IndyRef2 Pledge
© PA

The odds of a second Scottish independence referendum taking place next year have crashed after Nicola Sturgeon revealed the SNP’s intended poll date of October 2023, and betting sites have also reduced the likelihood that Scotland will vote to leave the UK.

Sturgeon outlined the proposed 19 October referendum at Holyrood, telling the Scottish parliament she has written to Boris Johnson and Westminster requesting the UK government grants IndyRef2.

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However, should Johnson refuse that request then Sturgeon says she will go through the Supreme Court, believing the SNP has a mandate to deliver a second referendum within a decade after being voted in as Holyrood’s majority party.

Sturgeon claimed the “issue of independence cannot be suppressed” and that Scottish democracy cannot be held a “prisoner” of Johnson. The Lord Advocate, Scotland’s top law officer, will refer the case to the UK's highest court.

But neither the polls nor the betting odds expect Scotland to vote Leave, and there remains a big doubt as to whether IndyRef2 will even go ahead.

IndyRef2 Odds

According to political betting sites, the IndyRef2 odds on a 2023 vote have fallen in the wake of Sturgeon’s announcement.

A new price of 14/5 (26% likelihood) reflects a big swing from 6/1 (14.3%) a few weeks ago, but there is still a one-in-four chance of it happening.

Meanwhile, a vote in 2024 is priced at 15/2 (12%) with Betfair. UK bookmakers evidently think this issue will be kicked into the long grass, with a 73% likelihood that there won’t be another independence referendum until 2025 at the earliest.

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Sturgeon’s Gamble

Sturgeon says she wants to “deliver clarity and legal certainty in a timely manner” but her decision to force the issue on Johnson is a risky one.

Should Westminster refuse the referendum and the courts decline to say otherwise, then the SNP could wave goodbye to a vote on independence.

This is the gamble that could define Sturgeon’s political career. Just like in 2012 when Scotland was granted its first independence referendum despite polls indicating they wouldn’t win, once again the SNP is facing an uphill battle.

Two polls since May’s local elections give between a 1% and 8% lead in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. Rarely since April 2021 has the cause to leave the union led in the polls.

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Lose this vote and Sturgeon would almost certainly step down. However, she might not even get that far. Boris Johnson has worries about his own future, so he is highly unlikely to grant Scotland another referendum and the Supreme Court’s decision is considered a toss-up.

What’s more, opposition parties were fiercely critical of the SNP during the announcement. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said, “we won't play Nicola Sturgeon's games, we won't take part in a pretend poll” and told the government to focus on helping families through the economic crisis.

Scottish labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Isn't she using the promise she made to lead us through the recovery, to instead pit Scot against Scot?”

Will Scotland Vote For Independence?

Remarkably, Sturgeon’s announcement in Holyrood has seen the best bookmakers swiftly reduce the chances of Scotland achieving independence.

The odds on Leave have risen from 17/20 to a new price of 10/11 (52.4% likelihood) with William Hill, while the odds on Stay have fallen from Evens to 4/5 (55.6%) likelihood.

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Considering the bookies gave Leave a 62% likelihood back in January, perhaps focusing the nation on independence has worked against the SNP here.

Should there be a vote in October 2023 then both sides of the divide are likely to dive headlong into highly-charged campaigns.

The UK hasn’t held a referendum since the controversial Brexit vote of 2016. Another tight result here will satisfy no-one.

Sturgeon is happy for the wording of IndyRef2 to reflect that of the first vote in 2014: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Back then Scotland voted to remain in the UK 55-45. A worse result than this would likely put an end to the independence debate.