The date is now set for the upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership to the European Union, and the SNP have in turn repeated their commitment to a second independence referendum should the UK vote to leave the European Union.
Nicola Sturgeon and other senior party members have in the past few days strongly suggested that a second independence referendum would be the next logical step if Scotland votes to remain in the European Union while the UK as a whole decides to leave. In spite of much opposition, the party would have the mandate it craves – although it would be one granted them by an electorate with far greater diversity of opinion than the SNP suggests.
In a poll recently taken by NatCen Social Research, support for the EU stands at 64 per cent in Scotland, while at a tenuous 52 per cent in England. Even if taken with more than a pinch of salt in light of the polling errors made at the 2015 General Election, the figures do follow a pro-EU trend present in Scotland for the past decade or so.
Consider, in very simple terms, the success of the SNP since 2010. During these years of exponential growth – a period which has included the landslide 2010 victory in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections, increasing support for independence by over 10 per cent, and losing only three seats in the UK General Election, the party has been campaigning on a very explicitly pro-EU platform. Constitutional issues aside, support for the European Union has been one of the party’s defining policies, and one of the major changes in its ideology since the 1980s.
That the SNP would have a mandate for the proposal of a second independence referendum seems beyond doubt. But care should be taken to avoid the dangerous assumption that the SNP have cleverly manipulated and promoted as they have risen to prominence over the last five years: namely, that they are a mouthpiece for the Scottish people.
SNP policy has increasingly been conflated with Scottish public opinion. The two are very clearly distinct. Another poll carried out by the same group behind the poll cited above suggests that 60 per cent of Scots are Eurosceptics. This is not to say that over half of the Scottish population have miraculously fallen into the razor-sharp embrace of UKIP’s support base. The term, in the context of the poll, was used to denote those who deemed the EU, in its current form, too powerful.
What this represents is not a radical departure from the SNP’s so-called ‘Euro-enthusiasm’, but an important nuance often ignored in the debate when conducted by the SNP. Reformism is alive and well amongst the Scottish electorate. Listening to SNP rhetoric, you would be forgiven for thinking that every Scottish citizen and party member is uncritically, unequivocally pro-EU. This is simply not the case. The campaign is, contrary to the SNP’s rhetoric, awash with grey areas. To ignore the evidently substantial numbers of the population who are critical of the EU is to unfaithfully represent the Scottish electorate.
Indeed, this does not change the danger posed to the rest of the UK if Boris and his Leave campaign triumph in June; reformism still strongly implies a commitment to the current system, and the SNP’s mandate remains. The legal process of arranging another referendum and how Scotland would vote are different questions entirely. But, in a word, we must be careful not to conflate the SNP’s voice with the reality on the ground, one which is far less homogenous than some would have us believe.
Image : Màrtainn