Borrowed time

There have been some significant developments over the past few days in a campaign for Scottish independence that was supposed to have been killed off by the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is up to a Prime Minister that Scotland didn’t vote for and not the people of Scotland to decide if Scotland can ask itself about the nature of its relationship with the other nations of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. Since the court ruling there have now been four opinion polls in a row showing majority support for independence, the most recent being a poll from Find Out Now which put support for independence on 54%.

Notably, and most damaging for those British politicians who cite opinion polling as the rationale for their undemocratic blocking of the mandate for another independence referendum which the people of Scotland gave to the Scottish Parliament in the May 2021 elections, one of these polls demonstrated that a majority want another independence referendum within the term of this Scottish Parliament, a large majority want another independence referendum at some point, and only 26% never want another referendum at all. The polls also concur in showing that independence is overwhelmingly the preference of the younger generations, with only the oldest age group still showing a majority for No. Westminster rule in Scotland is on borrowed time, and the longer that British politicians succeed in defying the democratic will of the people of Scotland for another vote on independence, the more comprehensive the defeat for Westminster is going to be.

The demographic implications are crystal clear, you might imagine that a sensible and tactically thinking UK party leader would understand that the longer they prevaricate, the harder they are going to find the inevitable vote on independence is going to be to win. Logically therefore, the parties opposed to independence ought to be seeking an independence vote as quickly as possible in order to maximise the chances of the decisive victory that they need in order to park the independence issue for a couple of decades.

But Westminster is cursed by short term thinking. For the current party leaders it suffices to kick the can down the road until after the next election, by which time they hope that the issue becomes someone else’s problem, and they won’t be remembered in English history books as the man or woman who lost Scotland – and make no mistake – these people very much regard Scotland as a possession which is theirs to keep or to lose. Despite their claims to the contrary, the views of the people of Scotland are to them but a trifling consideration.

This is abundantly clear in the arrogance of both Starmer and Sunak. Starmer thinks so little of Scottish opinion that he has fully subscribed to the economic and cultural suicide of the Conservatives’ hard Brexit. In this prison that calls itself a union, only England’s opinions matter. Writing in the Observer newspaper over the weekend, former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain noted that for Labour as much as the Conservatives Brexit has become a taboo subject which cannot be questioned and whose negative effects cannot be mentioned or acknowledged, far less addressed and remedied. Brexit is the reason why the UK is the only major economy which has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, Brexit has created a labour shortage, driven up food prices by 6% according to the London School of Economics and decreased UK trade by 15%. Yet neither Labour nor the Conservatives are willing to admit that Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster, in thrall as they are to the right wing press and English nationalist exceptionalism.

Hain warns : “As these Brexit failings become more evident, support for Scottish independence appears to be edging up. Unless Labour does something about it, we could get independence driven at least in part by Brexit, which Nicola Sturgeon continually stresses in making her case.” Brexit is not the sole reason for the rise in support for independence, although it certainly is an important factor. Another crucial factor is that the UK Scotland is a part of is not the UK that Scotland was told it could be a part of in 2014. That UK was a voluntary union of nations in which Scotland was an equal partner, a union which guaranteed Scotland’s place in the European union and in which the devolution settlement was to be protected forever from Westminster meddling. It was a voluntary union which was about to become federal, a union in which Scotland’s voice and opinion was always going to be represented and respected at the highest levels of British government.

But none of this will change until Labour starts to address Scottish concerns seriously, not trying to fob us off with Gordie Broon’s frankly pathetic reforms, proposals which represent a rowing back on what Labour was proposing just a couple of years ago. However for Labour as much as the Conservatives a desire for Scottish independence is seen to be evidence of intransigent Scottish wickedness at worst, and Scottish foolishness at best. The Westminster parties can never properly start to address the reasons for the rise in support for Scottish independence as long as they continue to view it as a consequence of some sort of Scottish moral failure, and not as a consequence of British political and constitutional shortcomings. It’s far more comforting for the parties of Anglo-British nationalism to tell themselves that the blame lies with anglophobic, foolish or grievance mongering Scots rather than with their own failures and shortcomings.

So the next time some delusional “I’m not a nationalist because I’m British’ opponent of Scottish independence whines about the 2014 referendum not being respected, remind them of what they promised in order to win it, and ask when they intend to start respecting their own commitments and vows.

Although plans have been afoot for some time, the recent excellent polling results for independence support give a huge boost to the announcement over the weekend that a Scottish Independence Congress is to be created in which all organisations campaigning for independence will be welcome, regardless of party affiliation. According to Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp : “The goal of the event is to bring the Yes movement together, to agree goals, tactics and behaviours that will speed up Scotland’s progress towards independence.”

Increasingly, it’s clear that Westminster rule in Scotland is living on borrowed time.


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