How has the case for Scottish independence evolved since 2014?
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon will draw up a “roadmap” to a second independence referendum on Tuesday. In a 2014 referendum, 55 percent of voters in Scotland chose to remain in the UK – and much to the chagrin of Unionists, the Scottish government plans to hold another referendum in October. But from Brexit to a scandal-ridden prime minister occupying Downing Street, much has changed since the last vote.
“After all that has happened – Brexit, Covid, Boris Johnson – it is time to envision a different and better vision,” Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement. June 14 speech in Edinburgh outlining a “renewed advocacy for independence”†
It’s no surprise that Sturgeon puts Brexit at the top of her list. Six years after Britain’s fateful referendum on EU membership, Scotland is left with a hard Brexit it didn’t support (62 percent of Scots voted in vain to stay in the bloc). “Brexit has ripped us out of the EU and the single market against our will, with massive damage to trade, living standards and public services,” Sturgeon said in her speech.
‘A much more complicated choice’
But while the bitter pill of an unwanted Brexit is a strong case for Scottish independence, it has also made things more complex. If Scotland became independent and managed to rejoin the EU, it is now extremely difficult to see how it could avoid an unwanted hard border with neighboring England, at least for goods. The ongoing row over the Northern Ireland Protocol highlights the apparent impossibility of avoiding customs controls in such a scenario.
As Sir John Curtice, professor of political science at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, puts it: “The current Scottish Government wants to align regulation with the EU’s single market. As we know, that means a border, somewhere or something else.”
More broadly, Brexit means Scots will face “greater choice” in a future independence referendum, Curtice said. “Any referendum held now will be a choice between Scotland as an independent country and within the European Union, or Scotland within the UK but outside the European Union,” he explained. Basically, “it’s a much more nuanced choice, it’s a much more complicated choice”.
Curtice continued: “Both sides have issues to address and arguments to build that are relevant to the current situation, unlike the debate we had almost eight years ago. Because it’s not the same choice. It’s no longer.” , in the end, a debate about in or out – it’s a debate about in/out versus out/in.”
Lessons from the pandemic
The lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic also cut both ways when it comes to Scottish independence. On the one hand, Scotland benefited from the UK-wide leave scheme for those unable to go to work during the lockdown, and later from the UK-wide procurement scheme to buy Covid-19 vaccines. But as the UK’s four devolved nations were responsible for their own health policies, Scotland was able to diverge from England when it came to restrictions, excluding travel. Sturgeon gave regular televised briefings during the pandemic, much to the frustration of her political opponents. But for independence supporters, this was a taste of what things could be like if Scotland were in charge of its own affairs.
Compared to Downing Street, Sturgeon was generally more cautious about restrictions and was praised for her overall approach to the health crisis. By contrast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a lax stance on the virus from the outset — his government initially wanted to pursue a herd immunity strategy — and later bowed to significant pressure from his Conservative party to lift restrictions as soon as possible. lift. The UK as a whole ended up with the highest death toll in Europe in terms of reported deaths during the first wave of the pandemic.
PM’s hangover from ‘partygate’
As for Johnson himself, he appears to be living on borrowed time after the ‘partygate’ scandal, which made him the first sitting prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law when he was fined for violating Covid restrictions. His refusal to resign over the lockdown-busting parties in and around 10 Downing Street is making him increasingly vulnerable. The embattled prime minister survived a vote of no confidence on June 6, but his party lost two by-elections last week, including one to a previously safe Conservative seat.
Johnson, who has never been popular in Scotland, has a record-low approval rating there of minus 71 percent. according to a recent poll by Ipsos† Most Scots did not vote for the current Conservative government in Westminster (Scotland has just six Conservative MPs), which is pursuing an increasingly right-wing agenda. The contrast is stark with the Scottish National Party (SNP), a center-left party that governs Scotland with the support of the Scottish Greens. As Sturgeon summed it up in her June 14 speech“We have a prime minister without democratic authority in Scotland and nowhere in the UK.”
Scotland ‘divided in the middle’
Despite the fallout from Brexit, Covid-19 and Johnson’s record, voters remain evenly divided on the issue of Scottish independence, with some recent polls narrowly putting “No” in first place† “In fact, the country is divided in the middle and has been since 2019,” noted Curtice, who is also a poll expert.
When asked why support for independence isn’t greater at this stage, Curtice cited three possible reasons: “One, we haven’t had the debate I just talked to you about. Two, quite a bit of the boost there was against ‘yes’ in the second half of 2020, early 2021 – which seemed to be mainly driven by perceptions of how Brexit was handled – seems to have disappeared and the third answer is that it will be much harder to shift public opinion this time because a lot of people made a decision in 2014. So while there have been quite a few shifts in attitudes during the 2014 campaign, it will probably be more difficult now to change attitudes.”
Cost of living crisis
As for the economy, the war in Ukraine has led to a rise in inflation that shows no sign of abating. UK inflation reached a 40-year high of 9.1 percent last month. In the above-mentioned Ipsos survey, 30 percent of respondents cited the rising cost of living as the main problem Scotland is currently facing. Opposition parties in Scotland argue that this is the worst possible time to plan for another referendum, for which the government in Edinburgh has allocated £20 million (€23.2 million). Meanwhile, as Scotland pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2045, there is uncertainty over new oil projects.
Finally, what about the current Scottish government’s own record? Sturgeon has been in charge since 2014 – last month she became Scotland’s longest serving Prime Minister. Despite implementing innovative policies such as offering free access to sanitary products, the decentralized government led by the SNP has been criticized for its recording at the officeespecially in the field of education and long waiting lists in hospitals after the pandemic†
But according to Curtice, the people of Scotland separate government records from the issue of independence. “At the moment people’s perceptions of how well the SNP has led Scotland appear to be irrelevant as people vote on the issue of independence,” he said.
“Who knows who would lead an independent Scotland?” he asked, adding, “The fundamental question that the SNP will face if independence is achieved is: What’s the point of the SNP? Don’t assume that the SNP will survive in its current form.”
‘Boris is not a fixed value’
For now, all eyes are on Sturgeon’s speech to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, in which she vowed to unveil a “lawful” path to independence. There is speculation that, in order to circumvent Johnson’s continued refusal to give the official green light for a new vote, the prime minister could announce an “advisory” or “consultative” referendum† That would be a risky move, as Unionists have vowed to boycott such a plebiscite.
But this may not be the end of the story. Indeed, Curtice stressed the importance of looking ahead to the next general election.
“Boris is not a fixture. And this current UK government has to face the electorate by the end of 2024. At this point, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll end up with a hung parliament. If there’s a hung parliament, the Tories are stuck. frankly burned their boats with everyone, including the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party).”
Curtice continued: “So the question is, what influence will the SNP have in a pending parliament? They will probably become the third largest party. If the SNP is the hinge party and Labor can only form a minority government with the consent of the SNP , then the price of the SNP is basically – frankly, I can tell you now – it’s going to be a referendum of sorts.”
Whether the Scots would then vote for independence remains to be seen.