Regrettably, I feel compelled to give what some might find a rather pessimistic assessment of the current situation with regards to Scottish independence.
It is likely that Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement for two reasons. Firstly, he and his Westminster cronies were confident that Scotland would vote against independence by a comfortable margin, as was predicted by the opinion polls at that time. Secondly, they expected that losing the referendum would be a major setback for the independence movement in general, and the SNP in particular, as was the case in 1979 following the first devolution referendum. Events proved them very wrong. The referendum result was much closer than they originally expected, and might well have been Yes had they not ignored the purdah rules by shifting the goalposts at the last minute, before promptly shifting them back almost to their original position. They must have been horrified at the resulting surge in membership, and support as shown by opinion polls, for the pro-independence parties.
Opinion polls since the referendum indicate that if another referendum were to be held now, the result would probably be Yes. There is little chance that the Westminster mob will agree to another referendum, as long as they are likely to lose it, perhaps not even when a ‘political generation’ has gone by. There will almost certainly be no Edinburgh Agreement Mark II. The Scottish Government could try to hold a referendum, but it is probable that it would be ruled outside their competence to spend public money on it, since constitutional matters are amongst the many powers still reserved to Westminster. Even if a referendum were to be held, Westminster would be free to treat it as no more than a glorified opinion poll.
Another option is to turn an election into a plebiscite, whereby the SNP might make independence the most important part of their election manifesto, declaring in advance that a majority vote for the SNP would be taken as a mandate for independence. This would be a gamble, because while it might gain them some votes from independence supporters who would not otherwise vote for the SNP, it would also cost them votes amongst people who support many of the SNP’s policies but are wary of independence. Again, the real problem is that Westminster could, and almost certainly would, refuse to accept such a result as a valid mandate or to enter into negotiations with the Scottish Government over independence.
Another hope is that Scotland will return mostly SNP MPs at the next General Election, who, in the event of a hung parliament, might hold the balance of power at Westminster. However, it would be folly for the SNP to form any kind of an alliance with the Tories, as they would probably lose much of their support, just as the LibDems have done. On previous form, Labour would consider a deal with the SNP as too high a price to pay for forming a government; after the last election they preferred being in opposition to trying to form a rainbow coalition which would have included the SNP. Perhaps there would have to be a minority government, and the SNP contingent could try to make enough of a nuisance of themselves that English MPs would decide to get rid of them by agreeing to Scottish independence. This would be a risky tactic, and the response to it might all too easily be a Tory/Labour alliance. After all, there is very little ideological difference between the Tories and Labour.
There was one good opportunity for an amicable re-negotiation of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and that has gone. It is difficult to see any easy route to independence in the present political climate. The UK Government is becoming steadily more authoritarian, introducing new laws and widespread surveillance, supposedly aimed at preventing terrorism, which could easily be turned against any dissent. The electorate in England is apparently becoming more right-wing and xenophobic, judging by the rise of UKIP, and some of this xenophobia manifests itself as antagonism towards Scotland. The UK economy is being catastrophically mismanaged, and might suffer a major collapse, especially if the UK decides to leave the EU.
It is my opinion that the stage may well be reached, within the next few years, when a unilateral declaration of independence, with all its risks and disadvantages, will be the least bad option for Scotland, especially if the UK votes to leave the EU but Scotland does not. Even the possibility of a UDI, which could be damaging to the rest of the UK, might just be what is needed for Westminster to agree to negotiate on Scottish independence. What this means is that we cannot meekly agree to play by Westminster’s rules if we are to have any real hope of gaining our independence. One of those rules will be that Scotland can only become independent with Westminster’s permission – which is is unlikely to be granted willingly. (Westminster tends to have two sets of rules, lax for themselves and strict for others. If Alex Salmond had announced something comparable to the ‘Vow’ just before the referendum, I have little doubt that he would have been in serious trouble for breaking the purdah rules.)
Recently some SNP councillors made the valid point that the Smith Commission report is deeply unsatisfactory. (It would have been unsatisfactory even if the supposedly independent commission had not had some of its recommendations vetoed by Westminster before the report was produced.) They set fire to one copy of the report, and disposed of the remains safely and tidily in a litter bin, thereby actually managing to get their protest reported. The Unionists reacted to this with manufactured outrage, as though it had been a copy of the Bible that had been sacrilegiously destroyed, or a Union Jack hat had been burned, rather than a report. Nicola Sturgeon reacted by condemning the councillors’ actions and suspending them from the SNP. I believe this to be a mistake; she has let the Unionists set the rules. If one gives in to a bully, the bully will be encouraged to persist with his bullying. Now SNP activists may feel the need to be overly cautious about all they say and do, lest the Unionists find some justification for pretending to be offended.
Above all, if the SNP leadership are not willing to defy the the Unionists, and defend their own supporters, over such a minor matter, it does not augur well for their willingness to defy the Unionists on more important matters. On the contrary, it will encourage the Unionists to continue denying Scotland the autonomy the the majority of her people want, whether that be through devo-max or independence.