By Tom Walsh
Ironically, the oft-cited desire for increased UK sovereignty may have the unintended effect of dismantling the Union itself. Calls for independence within the corridors of both Stormont and Hollyrood are not only growing in volume, but are becoming increasingly legitimised by the realities of Brexit. Whilst Northern Ireland voted in favour of remain, the margins were significantly tighter than those we saw in Scotland.
North of the border, all 32 council areas voted by a majority to stay within the European Union. On a national scale, Scots voted 62% to remain. These figures are stark, especially when contrasted with England. Scotland was as united on the issue of Europe as it is possible to imagine. It also shows that Scottish people identify with Europe very closely. Whilst it doesn’t necessarily prove, by definition, that Scots are more European than British, it certainly gives a flavour of that mentality.
The Brexit vote occurred on 23rd June 2016. On the 28th June, Sturgeon said “independence is not my starting point in these discussions. My starting point is to protect our relationship with the EU”. This is a clever use of rhetoric, bringing the European issue to the fore, whilst appearing to put independence on the backburner. In actuality, this framing evolves Scottish independence into an entrenched, multi-faceted, and common sensical decision.
It feels like a very long time since the first Scottish independence referendum in 2014. The frustration within Scotland is palpable, not just about Brexit, but about the incompetence of the current government in Westminster. Whilst Sturgeon has been far from perfect when dealing with Covid-19, her instructions, policies, and overall position have represented a degree of clarity and decisiveness, which has been completely absent from Boris Johnson’s approach.
The Progress Scotland polling shows a surge of support for independence over the recent months. Polling expert Professor John Curtice, when asked to account for this surge, replied simply: “It’s two things – it’s Brexit and it’s coronavirus”.
These developments culminated with a harrowing poll for the unionists. Just this week, a poll showed the highest ever recorded support for Scottish independence. Excluding those voters who were undecided, 58% of Scottish likely voters said they would vote “yes”, for Scottish independence. The Scottish referendum for independence of 2014 resulted in only 44.7% of voters voting “yes”. So, the likelihood of a referendum resulting in independence for Scotland is incredibly high at present.
The likelihood of a referendum happening is a logistical nightmare. In order to conduct another vote, Holyrood would have to secure the support of Westminster. Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that, under no circumstances, will he sanction another referendum.
The Scottish elections are in May of 2021. The SNP already has a significant majority. The chances of this increasing further, and a legitimate landslide occurring, look entirely likely. This will give Scotland an emphatic and total argument for a second referendum, and put significant strain on Westminster. Nevertheless, the power remains in London, and the Tories appear significantly bloody-minded on this issue to ensure another referendum does not happen.
Nevertheless, this British government is being attacked from every angle, even within their own party. Politics is evolving at a rapid pace, and there is no telling what is around the corner. There is great confidence that the SNP will wipe the floor with their opponents in May, and bring the cries of a united Scotland to the doors of Downing Street. Scotland is a proud nation and their identity has become crystallised once again against the English. The cries will be loud and the fight will be volatile. The spirit of Robert the Bruce’s proclamation that “we fight not for glory, nor for wealth, nor honour but only and alone for freedom which no good man surrenders but with his life”, will be brought with force to Parliament.
Image: Jörg Angeli via Unsplash