One school of thought surrounding the SNP’s scheduling of an Autumn 2014 independence referendum is that the haunting spectre of another five years of Tory Government after the 2015 General Election will veer Scots towards a Yes vote. The current problem with this strategy of course is that Labour are currently 13% up in the polls.

This inconvenience should not have come as a surprise to anyone within Yes Scotland. Incumbent political parties that go on to win handsome election victories often lag far behind in the midterm polls.
The SNP trailed Labour by double digits nine months shy of the 2011 Holyrood elections, Michael Howard’s Tories kept pace with Labour for over a year before being thumped by the irrepressible Tony Blair in 2005 while John Major famously snatched victory from Kinnock’s jowls of defeat in 1997, contrary to what the polls had been saying. Even political rock’n’roll star Barack Obama trailed the Republicans for most of his first term, ultimately winning a second with relative ease late last year.

The clue as to who will win the next election often lies with leaders’ personal approval ratings. Gray never struck the necessary chord with the Scottish public, Brits agreed that Howard had something of the night about him and Kinnock never went beyond being ‘alright’ in the public’s minds. All were electorally eviscerated accordingly, despite the commanding poll leads their parties had enjoyed.

Ed Miliband appears to be very much a similar pretender to that longed for throne. Labour’s 13% poll lead is not mirrored in the party leader’s ratings given Miliband is less popular than Cameron right across the country, except for a very slender lead in Scotland (29% approval to Cameron’s 26%). For a Labour leader to be jostling for popularity with a Conservative leader north of the border is practically unheard of.

In a referendum context, these somewhat contradictory statistics are bad news for Yes Scotland and good news for Labour. It is fair to say that the public broadly do not understand the nuances of political polls and would largely expect a Labour majority in 2015, and vote in Autumn 2014 accordingly.

And if the threat of a Tory Government was a reason to vote Yes, then the promise of a Labour Government must surely be a reason to vote No.

Many Nats, in their best Charge of the Light Brigade fashion, will argue that nothing can be done, that the die has been cast and that the Autumn 2014 date is immovable. Not so.

The Holyrood term runs from 2011 to 2016 with the Westminster terms from 2010 to 2015 and 2015 to 2020. The Scottish Government could therefore decide to hold the referendum in the Autumn of 2015, still within its current term but quite possibly several months into a Tory Government’s new term.

It’s a gamble; and there are downsides, of course:

The SNP has set its stall out for an 18 month handover between the referendum date and Scotland’s first post-independence elections in Spring 2016. A new timetable would push this back a year into 2017 with the thorny question being whether devolved Holyrood elections would be required when the current term runs out. An SNP victory would be likely in such an event but a devolved Labour Government being tasked with thrashing out a deal with the UK Government would be unpalatable. Issues surrounding a mandate for the treatment of Trident is one obvious can of worms.

A further concern would be the quite reasonable headlines suggesting that Yes Scotland is running scared, that it is already beginning the ‘neverendum’ process of delay and dither to suit its purposes. These headlines would be short lived but potentially damaging nonetheless.

However, the overriding objective for Yes Scotland is getting to 50% and a post-2015 Tory Government with few (if any) Scottish MPs may well be deemed a better environment in which to reach this threshold than the false sense of security of Labour surging misleadingly in the polls.

The SNP gambling on the general election outcome and holding the independence referendum in Autumn 2015 is therefore surely worthy of consideration. Scotland won’t be hosting the Commonwealth Games or the Ryder Cup that year, but it will host the Orienteering Championships, and appositely so for a Yes camp who may require to know their bearings more accurately come then.