By Ollie Campbell
"First all-women Cabinet event" by Scottish Government
Most of the Scottish population want independence, most Britons think they are heading that way -all they lack is the means to get there.
On 28 January Boris Johnson flew to Scotland with the intentions of convincing all the independence seekers that the benefits to the union are vast. A large proportion of unionists realise that disintegration of the United Kingdom is likely. It has to be noted that Brexit has loosened the bonds that only just hold the four nations together. In a recent YouGov survey more that double as many Britons believe that in the next 10 years Scotland will get independence as, for the first time, polls have leant more leave at 53% yes and 47% no. However, fewer than half of those asked say they would be upset.
Coming up in May is the Scottish local elections. With no surprise, the SNP is expected to win a large majority across the country which they shall use to push a second independence referendum. This first ballot, held in 2014, Scots voted to keep the union, with a turnout of over 86% (the biggest in the UK for any election/referendum since 2010). Although, a majority now consistently say that would vote for independence. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has a very high approval rating which Boris Johnson does not have. Scots agree that independence will likely leave them much worse off, but Brexit has now become a battle of constitutional ideals as opposed to economic interest.
Even though a majority want independence, to Scottish nationalists, the union still looks discomposingly robust with no opportunity of a break-off. The SNP minister for the constitution, Michael Russell, proposed a new plan of action on 24 January with intentions of gaining a new referendum, but there lies a big hurdle ahead.
The hurdle itself is British constitutional law. Unfortunately for the SNP there is no equivalent of Article 50 for the people of Scotland to enact, and the Scotland Act clearly states that the constitution is Westminster’s domain. It is possible, under a Section 30 order, to grant the devolved powers responsibilities normally held by Westminster, which Cameron used in 2014. It is rather improbable that Mr Johnson would be so kind, suggesting no Scottish vote until 2055.
It is impossible for the government to not be alarmed at the rate Scottish support for independence is growing. Mr Johnson was able to use his visit to focus on the Covid-19 vaccines, something that England is massively outperforming Scotland at. Johnson is experiencing none of the pressure from his own party that Cameron received on a vote for EU independence. A lengthy independence rift in Scotland that shows no progress will inevitably allow the Conservatives to gain much more Scottish support.
Whatever the outcome is in May, it will be a difficult time for Ms Sturgeon’s leadership. An ongoing inquiry over what she knows to do with sexual assault claims by her predecessor, Alex Salmond, is slowly being investigated. If either Mr Johnson digs in, or the Supreme Court rules in his favour, demand for Scottish independence could increase at an unnerving rate. This would mean it is merely a matter of time before the Prime Minister is forced to give in. Nevertheless, it is equally possible that support deflates as the initial Brexit aftermath settles. Hopefully, the Scots’ focus turns to the state of their education and healthcare after 14 long years of SNP leadership and all effort going into independence.
The break-up of Britain, however unlikely it seems, will be a historic moment for most of the world. The SNP was first created in 1934 and since then over 100 states have gained independence, mostly due to war, decolonisation or economic collapse. Breaking away from one of the world’s most prosperous democracies during a time of peace is another question. The SNP has to be recognised for its courage and innovation as they try to dismantle Britain without breaking any form of law. Across advanced nations there are many nationalist movements, almost none have led to independence. The SNP want a revolution and a big movement, but every move is a tip-toe.