I couldn’t quite work it out if Nicola Sturgeon was being ironic when she paraphrased a Winston Churchill quotation at the SNP Party Conference last month. While she was referring to Brexit, the hypocrisy which she failed to see by saying that is this: for however long she and the SNP keep pushing the case for independence, they too are seeking to satisfy the minority at the expense of the majority.
They have never accepted the democratic decision of the 2014 Referendum: the result was decisive and, while the wider geopolitical climate has changed since then, the current mood still stands and the SNP cannot be certain that they will get the result they want in the event of a second bite of the cherry.
Nicola is aware of this and was careful to advise caution during her recent speech at the SNP Conference, declaring that her supporters must be patient, persistent and pragmatic. Her approach is such because she knows that to suffer a second defeat would certainly kill the dream for a generation. While they have conveniently forgotten that their first attempt was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and while they can just about go for a second in a lifetime, a third would be asking too much. They need more than just hope of success, they need certainty before taking the plunge. Not all in the party are as realistic as the SNP Glasgow Councillor, Susan Aitken, who argued that the SNP need to work hard to put forward a solid case for independence in order to persuade the doubters. And despite the supposedly 100,000 strong ‘Yes’ protestors at a recent march in Edinburgh, and various polls suggesting an increase in support for independence, it is clear that Nicola does not have the confidence that a majority in Scotland will vote ‘Yes’ when it comes to the crunch.
But the outcome of Brexit will, according to Nicola, be the determining factor for Scotland’s future and this is what she is holding onto, and, although it pains me to admit it, she is right.
According to journalists at the SNP conference, some noticed a decidedly more cheery Nicola; a mood that she certainly did not display in August. And who can blame her? Who else in Scotland is up to the task of challenging her? Ruth Davidson is soon to go on maternity leave; Richard Leonard is ineffective, and the Liberal Democrats, as in the rest of the UK, largely remain in the political wilderness.
And in a broader UK context, the Conservatives are constantly in-fighting over Brexit and although less obviously, so are Labour. Neither seems to have any notion of the dangers of the growing support for independence.
And another aspect could also give Nicola a greater sense of optimism: recent polls suggest that 79 per cent of English Tories would rather see the end of the United Kingdom than abandon Brexit. These 79 per cent are effectively led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson who hold so much sway in the far right-wing element of the Tories.
Nicola mentioned that if a political system can ‘throw up the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg as contenders for Prime Minister [something] has clearly gone very wrong.’ This, though, Nicola knows could work in the SNP’s favour — they would be delighted if such a Tory were to take the helm. It strengthens the SNP’s case for independence, reinforcing the widely held belief that Westminster holds nothing but contempt for Scotland. Unionists in Scotland are desperately trying to argue that the United Kingdom is an entity that all nations within should fight for and that the unity of the whole is far stronger, than any single element within it.
Both the SNP and ‘Little Englander’ Tories have much in common: both are nationalistic; both are parochial in their vision for their own countries; both have an inflated sense of their nation’s worth on today’s world stage; neither see the bigger picture for what is in the UK’s best interests; and both have an ‘us and them’ mentality. While they may be on different ends of the political spectrum, their mentalities are the same. Such enduring and deep-seated sentiments, sadly, do not bode well for the unity of the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon was right when she stated that Brexit will result in the UK being more insular, but for both England and Scotland the answer to Brexit is not to go their separate ways. By doing so, they are both putting the shutters up to each other and, in England’s case, to the EU. If they want to maintain a healthy, thriving land post-Brexit, they need to work together. From economics, culture, heritage, to politics, the two countries and the UK as a whole, are too intertwined to separate. We have already seen the mess in which we have placed ourselves when negotiating to leave the EU so why do that yet again for the UK? And an internal mess would ensue if a second independence referendum were to be held, especially one that was encouraged by the right-wing element of the Conservative Party. Independence threatens the future stability and unity of the country and, if it happens, could see Scotland and the UK lose so much to satisfy so few.