Referenda are a bit like buses. You wait decades for one and then three or four come along one after the other. Since 2010 we’ve already had referenda on electoral reform (I suspect that most people, except Nick Clegg, have forgotten that one), Scottish Independence and European Union membership.
Now it looks like we will soon have yet another one, with Nicola Sturgeon this week announcing plans for a second vote on Scottish Independence. The media are already getting excited, and in many cases over excited, about Indy Ref 2.
The most vitriolic coverage has been in the staunchly unionist Daily Telegraph. Allison Pearson used her column to describe Sturgeon as “the love child of a Bay City Roller and a Shetland Pony”. A nasty comment which is both racist and snobbish. Pearson clearly looks down on those of us who don’t share her privileged Oxbridge background.
Mind you, it could have been worse. Media reports say that the original headline on Pearson’s column called for Sturgeon to be beheaded. The Telegraph quickly changed the headline for later editions, but it does seem astonishing that a newspaper could print such a message less than a year after the murder of MP Jo Cox.
Sturgeon is clearly hopeful of getting a “Yes” majority this time round and she has two major factors in her favour. Firstly, she will be hoping to tap into the anti Brexit mood in Scotland. Secondly, she will hope that the disarray of the Labour Party means that Scottish voters will see Independence as the best way of avoiding a lifetime of Conservative Governments.
It will be fascinating to see who ends up leading the Better Together campaign this time round. Alistair Darling has made it clear that he doesn’t want the job for a second time and Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s Leader in Scotland, clearly isn’t up to it. The Scottish Tory Leader Ruth Davidson is a superb media performer, but the fact that she is a Tory means that she will find it tough to get through to the left leaning Scottish electorate. Whoever gets the job of going head to head with Nicola Sturgeon may well find it thankless task.
Thankfully the 2014 referendum was free of political violence, but newspapers will need to show more responsibility than the Telegraph if we are to have a peaceful campaign this time round.