The plans for a referendum on Scottish independence offer a nice opportunity for applying spatial analysis. The latest point of contestation is whether a third option (enhanced devolution) should be offered to the voters in addition to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The UK government is against including the third option, a Scottish movement is strongly in favor, and the major advocate of the independence camp Alex Salmond is undecided (as far as I can tell).
Assuming that the government in London prefers Scotland to remain in the UK (and enhanced devolution to full independence), why do they oppose the inclusion of the third option in the referendum? That would only make sense if the UK government believes that more people would vote ‘No’ to independence when faced with the choice between the two extremes. At the same time, proponents of full independence will be better off including the third option only if they believe that they will lose a Yes/No referendum.
Trying to check the current estimates of support for independence, however, does not lead to a straightforward answer. According to Wikipedia, the latest poll conducted in September 2011 places the two camps practically dead-even – 39% say they would vote ‘Yes’ and 38% say they would vote ‘No’. According to the betting markets on the other hand, Scottish independence in the near future doesn’t stand quite a chance.
Obviously, London trusts the betting markets more than the polls. With the decision to oppose a third option in an eventual referendum, the UK government is betting that more people would oppose full independence rather than support it. If in the time until 2014 (when the referendum seems to be most likely) it turns out that this is not the case, the government would wish it had supported the inclusion of ‘enhanced devolution’ as the lesser of two evils.