Why Scottish independence (probably) isn’t going to happen
One of the takeaways from the EU referendum results was the disparity in vote across the nation. Scotland, Northern Ireland and London opted for Remain, London and Scotland overwhelmingly, and Northern Ireland with a lukewarm passion; the rest of the United Kingdom took to Brexit. The consequences of this disparity are clear: Scotland’s vote — a vote that has three times endorsed Scottish nationalists — was a minority vote, a vote discarded and ignored.
Disregarding the arguments of some that Scotland should see itself as part of the United Kingdom and not complain about the result, it is clear that the thirst for a second referendum on Scottish independence does exist, just. As to when Scots want it is yet to be seen: 16 percent want one as soon as possible, 32 percent as soon as the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU is clear; 25 percent until 2030 and… just 17 percent say Scotland should never have one again. Divided country, yes, but the want for another say on their nation’s future is a strong one.
When Scotland does go for it, I am not at all confident that second time will be the charm. One of the striking differences between public perceptions during IndyRef and EUref was the fact that so many did not think a Brexit would affect their personal finances, while a… Scexit/IndyExit would. When Scots were asked by YouGov — just a few days before polling day — whether an independent Scotland would affect their personal finances, 42 percent said it’d make them worse off, 21 percent better off (63 percent affected) and 24 percent no different. Contrast this to when Britons were asked a few days before EUref polling day (also by YouGov): just 39 percent said their personal finances would be affected by Brexit (10 percent better off, 29 percent worse off), while 44 percent said it’d make no difference. Were you to poll Scots again, I am confident that more would say a Scexit’d affect their personal finances for the worse given the recent economic contractions.
These figures alone are not what make me feel dubious about the prospects of a win for independence. Unlike the EU referendum, there is, I think, no other bogeymoon issue that’ll distract from the economy come IndyRef2. For many Britons during EUref it was immigration; for Scots — a country at ease with itself and welcoming to immigrants — the issue is, well, not an issue.
The only opportunity I can see that the Yes side could bring to the forefront to win is the idea of leaving the UK to join the EU. Anecdotes I came across on the morning of June 24 saw some of my Scottish friends renouncing their once firm support for the union in favour of the EU. Asking them again how they feel, a month following the vote in July found their support for Yes to be half hearted, or, actually, in retraction and/or confusion. My anecdote, while an anecdote, yes, does seem to reflect well in polling done by YouGov. The pollster asked Scots to choose between a Scotland part of the UK but not in the EU; and a Scotland in the EU but not part of the UK. The result, in my view, was a surprising one: 46 percent opted for the UK; 37 percent opted for the EU. A nine point margin with just under one in five undecided is breachable certainly, but difficult, and if, perhaps, the popularity towards and optimism projected upon Theresa May wanes, with an economy in freefall and a Conservative government perceived as incapable of management — with a European Union in contrast stabilising the refugee and Euro crises — then we can be sure many Scots will think going it alone could be better. As to whether it will be enough to bring it home for Yes is yet to be seen.
I personally am not confident Scotland will vote for independence come… whenever it comes. The economy will most likely play the part as lead actor, just as it had done in 2014 when the country was not on the brink of a recession. The status quo swingback, exploited and neutralised by the Leave side in the EU referendum through their ‘take back control’ messaging, may play a greater role in the second Scottish referendum. It is because of these factors — that the economy will play centre stage; that uncertain times call for certain options; that the very issue of personal finances and current perceptions will be exploited unmercilessly by the unionists — that I do not think Scotland will vote for independence. Public opinion could change, certainly, and with that my view, but with everything we currently know right now, were the referendum tomorrow, or within the next few years, Scotland ain’t gonna go it alone.
Putting aside the neutrality for a moment, I was pretty vociferous in my support for the unionists in 2014, but as my politics have recently matured I now have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the idea of an independent Scotland. In one vein I’d feel personally quite hurt that a country I admire has opted to cut its ties with the country I reside in, that splitting apart our United Kingdom (a construct admittedly that I don’t feel much affinity to, mind) is not something I’d particularly like, given the erecting of new — although probably lax — borders, a separate currency and all the rest of it… but in another vein I think Scotland’s a country with great attitudes to public services, social issues, can go it alone and that by being tied to a conservative England and a United Kingdom that regularly puts it in the losing side of electoral contests does it no favours. So, I’m mixed, and thoroughly undecided.