A SENSE of déjà vu descended as the result of the Scottish election was confirmed, and it may have been felt across the commercial property industry.

With the SNP winning 64 seats, one short of an overall majority, and poised to form a minority government, the stage appears to be set for the independence debate to dominate the forthcoming parliamentary term. Leader Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time in declaring that, bolstered by the support of the pro-independence Scottish Greens, there was a clear mandate from the Scottish people to seek a fresh vote on Scotland’s constitutional future.

Should the First Minister succeed in securing a fresh plebiscite on Scotland’s future, it would seem we are destined for a re-run of the arguments that were aired in the months before September 2014.

The last time there was a referendum on Scottish independence, there was talk of commercial property deals being done with “indyref” clauses inserted into contracts in the build-up to the vote. In other words, buyers had demanded break clauses that allowed them to back out of transactions in the event the Scottish electorate voted in favour of independence.

The trend was highlighted by Graham Waddell, co-founder of Glasgow-based property company Johnston Waddell, around a month-and-a-half before the 2014 poll.

Mr Waddell told The Herald at the time: “There are people who are delaying decisions and there are people who are waiting because of the uncertainty the vote has generated. We have a client recently who said, yes they would be interested in buying an investment we had put to them, but only on the basis that they can insert an independence clause which we have learned has been put in various contracts. [He said] yes he will buy – subject to a No vote.”

READ MORE: Investors demand Yes vote get-out clauses

Of course, it has not only been the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence that has provided pause for thought for commercial property investors. The same happened again two years later, ahead of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in June 2016.

In December 2020, it was predicted by property agent CBRE that the uncertainty brought by the resulting Brexit vote would begin to fade, but this was four-and-a-half years after the UK had voted to Leave.

Now, with further political uncertainty seemingly on the way, amid the push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, can we expect a further lull in the market?

One senior figure in the Scottish property industry told me that his firm is increasingly being asked by clients if they should avoid investing in Scotland because of the perceived uncertainty.

However, while he said the political situation is “certainly causing some investors to pause”, as happened with Brexit, the biggest drag on investment in Scotland is Covid restrictions.

“Investment activity has dramatically reduced for the past 15 months and that is largely because commercial property investors from outside the UK have not been permitted to travel to Scotland,” said David Davidson, Scottish chairman of Cushman & Wakefield. “Not surprisingly, most investors will not buy property they have not seen in person.”

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Are we ready to face another independence debate?

Mr Davidson said the independence issue “will no doubt cause anxiety for some” in light of the election result.

But he held out hope that politicians would make good on promises to prioritise the Covid recovery and issues such as education before embarking on another independence campaign. Ms Sturgeon has said there will be not be a referendum until the country has recovered from the pandemic, signalling an intention to hold the vote by the end of 2023.

That, of course, will not stop people passionately advancing the case for Scottish independence now. But perhaps that matters less now than in 2014.

Since then, political uncertainty has been a constant feature for investors to consider, whether it is in the form of Scottish and UK elections or constitutional referenda. It may well be that such background discord is now “priced-in” to investors’ thoughts to some degree. “It is almost like we have got used to living with that level of rhetoric from politicians,” said Alison Newton, co-head of real estate at law firm Addleshaw Goddard. Time will tell.