Is it to soon for another independence referendum?

Scottish independence has become a Tory nightmare ever since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010. The independence vote under Alex Salmond came first, then the Brexit vote and now the huge support gained by the Scottish National Party in the 2019 election. The question we have to ask is: where does Scotland go from here?


Sturgeon and the SNP’s popularity

The 2019 election hit home how different Scotland is to England and Wales in terms of the direction they want to take. The First Past the Post (FPTP) will always be brought up — and how much it exaggerated the brilliant result of the SNP.

Winning 48 of 59 seats in Scotland with just 45 per cent of the vote share is an impressive feat — but this percentage is actually up 8 per cent from the last election. This result has only helped to stir the pot of Scottish independence once again.

When you look at the state of the UK’s two major parties in recent times, with Labour infighting between the left and centre-left of the party, as well as the Tory party’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent scandal surrounding Dominic Cummings, this can only lead to more and more Scottish people becoming disillusioned with the UK as a Union.

Even during the Covid-19 outbreak, there was a clear divide between the steps that Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon took to combat the crisis.

As a Conservative voter in the last election because of their willingness to follow through with the referendum result, Nicola Sturgeon still impresses me. In every TV debate I have seen, she is calm, collected and everything you would want in a leader. She is popular with many people in Scotland.

A party that is not popular in Scotland however, are the Conservatives — and the attitudes towards the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union differ greatly between the two.

At this point, one must ask if it was even ethical to take Scotland out of the EU when over 60 per cent of the country voted to remain.

Johnson says ‘No’ but …

The person who seemingly has complete control as to whether Scotland gets to vote for independence is Boris Johnson. But he has made clear that he is not interested in offering a second referendum.

Of course there is the argument that Scotland already had its chance at a referendum under Alex Salmond in 2014, just six years ago. At the time, it was felt that that was the nation’s one and only chance to secure independence for at least a generation.

Despite this, a lot has changed since then. The Conservatives gained an overall majority, the Lib Dems were kicked out of office, the DUP have had a short stint at power, the Brexit vote happened, the SNP have arguably taken over Scotland and, Boris Johnson led the Conservatives to a stonking majority in December.

We cannot forget the SNP lost a number of seats in the 2017 election — even after the Brexit vote happened. Though Theresa May was incessantly questioned by Ian Blackford and the rest of the SNP in the House of Commons between the 2017 election and her resignation, you still felt that the SNP had lost a bit of the momentum that was built up in 2015 when they won 56 seats, gaining a whopping 50 from the 2010 election.

However, December’s vote has only helped to rebuild that momentum and give Sturgeon a clear mandate for a second independence referendum.

Another aspect that could have hindered the SNP’s case for a second vote was a possible second EU referendum. If the Labour Party had got into power and followed through with their manifesto promise, Scotland would have had less reason to buck. But it wasn’t to be. Labour lost a huge number of seats in 2019 and that second Brexit referendum was definitively off the table — ensuring that Scotland do not get a second say on their EU status.

Is a 2nd Scottish Independence referendum inevitable?

A second referendum on EU membership was a well-known preference of Sturgeon’s party and because that has not taken place, the call for Scottish independence has only been strengthened as a result.

The 55-45 per cent result from 2014 was a real blow for the SNP. This time, with Brexit as a leading factor, they may have just enough momentum to get over the line.

It may be only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. One cannot help but wonder how long Boris Johnson will be able to resist calls for indyref2 before he finally has to acknowledge the fact that Scotland may be destined to head in a different path to the rest of the UK.

The breakup of the UK would be seen as a disaster for the Union and a stain on Johnson’s reign as Prime Minister — accounting for Sturgeon’s uphill battle in getting that second vote.

Enter Coronavirus

This issue has quite rightly been swept under the carpet during the Coronavirus pandemic. Both Johnson and Sturgeon needed to put their energy into fighting something more pressing than national questions. Both leaders also needed to put their citizens first, especially when saving lives demanded proactive policy changes.

In their quest to do that, any talk of independence has gone out the window.

Should calls for a second vote resurface once the crisis has abated and another referendum takes place, I suspect it will put the issue to bed for a generation.

Something that could prove favourable for Boris however, is the possible anger of some Scottish people that the SNP have called for a second independence referendum in less than a decade. Similar to Brexit, this would be a major decision for Scotland. Furthermore, with the vote share for Sturgeon’s party at only 45 per cent during the 2019 election, that alone is not enough to get over the line.

I believe that I’m not alone in thinking that if if indyref2 was to take place it would be a very close vote. It would also be one of those key historical moments that no leader arguably wants to be remembered for: breaking the United Kingdom. This issue will certainly haunt Boris Johnson — regardless of how fat his majority is in England.

Keep an eye out for developments on this issue in the years to come — it may be the UK’s next major talking point.