Polls all point one way at the moment for both Scottish independence and the SNP. An Ipsos Mori poll (27 May) has found that 53 per cent want another independence referendum within 5 years. According to another Ipsos Mori poll published on 26 May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a massive 82 per cent approval for her coronavirus performance. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of Scots think Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done “badly” during the pandemic.
After a slew of such polls, it is clear the early optimism on behalf of many unionist commentators that the independence movement had been struck dead by the global pandemic (for how could independence supporters fail to appreciate UK solidarity in such a dangerous and changeable world order) was badly misjudged.
This failure is one of political analysis, in two ways.
First, the Scottish independence movement emerged precisely as a response to war, economic crisis, environmental decline, national, local and global inequalities. It identifies the British state as a road block to sound governance and a serious orientation on the social, economic and geopolitical problems we face. Since it is a response, fresh stimulus will not quiet it.
Second, it implies (as unionism generally does) a recourse to settling grievances through the existing institutions of the British state. These have scarcely ever been weaker.
The Conservative party won a stunning victory in December 2019. Since then, the official opposition has been more quietist and a-political than any time in recent years; perhaps in living memory. Sir Keir Starmer has made no secret at all of his courting of elite circles, touring the Tory press from the Times to the Telegraph making the case for a more subdued Labour with a collegiate attitude to the British establishment.
He has been largely absent from the enormous controversies of the pandemic era. And he wants to be seen to be absent. As the Dominic Cummings scandal rolled into its sixth day, he said: “This was the week when we should have been talking about how we ease the lockdown safely. How we restart our economy, support businesses, get more children back to school.”
That is, he wanted to lift the pressure on Johnson’s government and engage in appeasement of big business interests, who want a rapid re-launch for the economy.
So as Britain emerges from lockdown with the worst per-capita death rate in the world, and with the government’s leading strategic thinker himself a flouter of government measures, the official British state channel for dissent is closed. This will breed extra-parliamentary developments, and in Scotland one of those, indeed a central one, will be the independence movement.
Yet many problems unquestionably remain for independence supporters. Indeed, rather than kill-off the independence cause as many unionist commentators had hoped, one could make a strong case that the pandemic rescued Sturgeon from her independence woes.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but was only January, that the first minister drove a second vote through the Scottish Parliament demanding the powers from Westminster to hold a vote on Scottish independence. Johnson of course rejected the request, just as his predecessor did. The ‘gradualist’ road to independence, the staple of decades, had finally reached a dead-end. Largely because of this, the cohesion of the independence movement was beginning to show fractures.
All of the pressing strategic questions that faced independence campaigners before the pandemic remain, and they do not go away because of polling figures or political framing. Yet it remains the case, as a political response to a world disorder and a failing state, the national question will not disappear.
Source Direct is a free morning newsletter providing you with all the latest Scottish news in your inbox each morning, including:
- Analysis of the key stories
- A summary of what’s in the Scottish papers
- The latest on Source
- Interesting opinion pieces from around Scottish media
- A letters section
- Upcoming events for activists
To sign-up for Source Direct, click here.