The psychology of Yes is interesting. From an early age, we learn to associate the “yes” word with positive experiences; it’s a sign of pleasures to come, or an indication we’ve got our way, a signal of something agreeable, or the prospect of it. “Yes” is good.

So it’s no surprise really that supporters of Scottish independence like the word “yes” and want to retain it if there is a second referendum and, if I was them, I would too because it gives them an advantage. I remember visiting one of the Yes offices in 2014 and it was buzzing and positive; it felt like a Yes! kind of place. They had a clock on the wall counting down to the day when they thought all the promises would come true.

The No campaign, on the other hand, was a little different. I went to one of Gordon Brown’s speeches and it was good and everything – indeed, some people think those speeches saved the day – but it also reminded me a little of some of the Church of Scotland services of my childhood. That’s what it can feel like when you’re told to think “no” rather than “yes”: down in the subconscious, it means diet, and denial, and less fun. It was a little austere. It was a little bit No.

The reason I’ve been thinking about the differences between the two sides and the two words is that the Scottish Government has announced it will set out its plans for a second independence referendum in a draft bill and that the bill will include a timescale and the potential question we’ll be asked. Do I think they will stick to the question that was asked in 2014? Yes. Yes. Yes.

They will stick with it, or try to, because of the psychological factors I’ve just talked about – Yes sounds and feels more positive than No and you want your campaign to sound and feel more positive. There’s also the chance it will give them a political advantage – a head start if you like. One of the reasons Brexiteers were so keen on the Leave or Remain option in 2016 was that they were worried a referendum in which people were asked to vote Yes to staying in the EU would give Remainers an advantage. I think they were right.

The Electoral Commission also seems to agree with them. In their 2015 report on the proposed EU referendum question, the commission appeared to have some regrets about supporting a Yes/No option for the Scottish referendum and seemed to conclude that Yes/No was potentially biased in favour of Yes.

“We have previously recommended the possibility of either a yes/no or a non-yes/no question for use at a referendum on European Union membership,” said the report. “However, in this assessment we have heard clearer views, particularly from potential campaigners to leave the European Union, about their concerns regarding the proposed yes/no question.

“In addition, we have not as part of this assessment heard significant concerns from campaigners about campaigning on a non-yes/no question. Our assessment suggests that it is possible to ask a question which would not cause concerns about neutrality, whilst also being easily understood.”

The report’s conclusion, which sounds fair to me, may be why the SNP was initially reluctant to involve the commission in the drafting of a question for any future independence referendum. The referendum bill the Scottish Government introduced last year said questions should be tested by the commission unless the question was one which had previously been tested, which appeared to give the Government the option of repeating the Yes/No question without consulting the commission. They were trying to pull a fast one in other words.

Thankfully, they have since backed off from this dodgy position. Nicola Sturgeon said last week she would publish draft legislation setting out the question subject to testing by the commission. It is the right thing to do, but it also gives the No side an opportunity to put a case to the commission, as Brexiteers did in 2015, that Yes/No is biased. It is likely the commission will conclude that the Scottish question will have to be different from the one we were asked in 2014.

There will be other critical questions to be discussed too. Such as who gets to vote. Figures out this week showed there are some 400,000 non-UK nationals living in Scotland; a similar number of people who were born elsewhere in the UK live north of the Border. The fact both groups voted heavily in favour of No last time may tempt the SNP to try to give the vote to Scots living abroad, who appear to become more nationalistic the further away they live from the consequences. It could tip the balance.

And finally, there is the question of the threshold for victory. We know the unpleasant consequences of narrow victories: the wound continues to bleed. In the case of the EU referendum, Leave attracted only 51.89% and yet the victors portrayed it as a mandate for a no-deal Brexit. The SNP could exploit a narrow victory for Yes in a similar way – indeed, the SNP attracted only 46.5 per cent of the constituency vote in the 2016 Scottish election but have portrayed it as a mandate for a Scottish referendum.

The solution is to base constitutional change on what is genuinely the settled will of the public. In the United States, constitutional change needs support from two-thirds of the Senate and the House of Representatives and there’s a strong argument for referendums to require a similar margin. It you win a referendum with a two-thirds majority of those who vote, you know the constitutional change is what most people genuinely want. It also offers a better prospect of moving on from the division and accepting the result.

I have no doubt that, if there is another Scottish referendum, both sides will try to manipulate all of these factors to their advantage but the aim must be to create a process that is as free as possible from bias. The Scottish nationalists must also accept that you cannot simply re-rerun 2014 as if we haven’t learned anything. They will argue passionately to keep the word “Yes”. They will also want to keep a victory line of 50 per cent. But given the advantages it would give them, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

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