Considering a vote on Scottish independence was convincingly compared to another referendum that we have seen in recent times, which voted against the Union’s separation just over six years ago. Therefore, it would seem odd that we are asking this question again. However, a lot has changed in those six years.
The SNP revealed a ‘roadmap to a referendum’ this week with an 11-step plan. It sets out plans to hold a referendum after the pandemic if they gain an independence majority at the Scottish elections in May. This is looking increasingly likely with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP support growing during the pandemic. Even though the outcomes have not been that different in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, as to Coronavirus, the public has been far more receptive to Sturgeon’s communication of the news.
One of Sturgeon’s strengths has always been patriotic public speaking. The lack of a joined-up approach across all countries from the UK government has meant that Sturgeon can take control and lay blame when appropriate. In a poll conducted of Scottish views in November 2020, the figures show 72% thought the Scottish government had performed well, whilst only 25% thought the UK government had. This was less than a month after Scotland had one of the highest ‘R’ rates and the fastest rise of cases; thus, a potential indicator of rising nationalism and patriotic views within Scotland.
But there is another major factor which almost everyone agrees is playing a crucial part in the drive for Scottish independence – Brexit. The vote back in 2016 saw an overwhelming majority in Scotland vote for remain, with every council voting to stay in the EU. Four years later, with lots of twists, turns, lost votes and a couple of Prime Ministers, Brexit has finally started to happen. Scottish citizens have been continuously reminded that their fate is not decided by their population, but by the Union.
Brexit has not exactly started off on the right foot for the majority of Scot’s. The crucial Scottish fishing industry is in crisis due to post-Brexit red tape, meaning new border checks and paperwork. Reports of over £1 million being lost a day have put many Scottish local and generational businesses on the brink of collapse. Several seafood lorries even drove the trip down from Scotland to Westminster to protest outside parliament during January. This has led Scot’s to shift from feeling part of the UK, to wanting to be a part of the EU. The change in the polls highlights the increasing prevalence of how important the European Union is to Scottish people.
Two Prime Ministers have rebuffed the idea of a second referendum with Theresa May saying ‘now was not the time,’ but not ruling out the potential for after Brexit. Unfortunately for her, and maybe for supporters of Scottish Independence, May did not last that long.
Boris Johnson has been more definitive when ruling out a vote on Scottish independence. He has called it a ‘once-in-a-generation‘ vote, which was also a promise made by Alex Salmond, then leader of the SNP, when the first referendum took place. Johnson also rejected the SNP request for transfer of powers last year, that was necessary to hold a referendum. Johnson does have a record of offending Scot’s. He once wrote in The Spectator that ‘government by a Scot is just not conceivable‘ and in a poem, described Scottish people as ‘a verminous race.’
Opposition leaders have called for the SNP to focus on the pandemic, rather than pushing for independence. The Scottish Labour interim Leader Jackie Baillie has said it was ‘inexcusable‘ that in a time of crisis, the SNP decided to prioritise independence ‘above anything else’. A spokesperson for the UK government has said that we should all be ‘working in partnership to focus on defeating Coronavirus’. These certainly are not normal times, and a joined-up approach to the pandemic would be in all parties interests to find a way out of lockdown measures.
For the first time in recent decades, the polls are showing a consistent lead for Scottish independence, but polls have been proved wrong several times before. Most polls before Brexit showed a wish to stay in the EU. A recent poll shows 56% of Scots intending to vote, wish to leave the Union, a vast swing from the 2014 referendum, which only had 44% voting to leave.
Sturgeon and the SNP still have a long way to go, despite stating she has ‘never been so certain‘, that Scotland will become independent. There is still the pandemic to overcome, which will inevitably cause people to take a more in-depth look into how the SNP handled the virus. There is also the case of Alex Salmond’s trial and what Sturgeon and other senior members of the SNP knew, or said, before and after they found out about these allegations. These may cause some crucial blows in the public image and trust placed upon the SNP by Scotland’s people.
Scottish independence is not currently inevitable, but it certainly could become that way. The desire for independence is stronger than ever. Brexit and the Coronavirus have left Scots feeling like they are being led, governed, and made to follow the rest of the UK’s rules. Johnson and the rest of the government need to develop a way to entice the Scottish people into becoming pro-UK, rather than pro-EU. Otherwise, we could see the end of the Union in our generation.