The Student
Features
Is Covid-19 changing our view of Scottish Independence?
by Emma Landsburgh, 14/10/20

The idea of Scottish independence has become a main focus for many after the actions of the Westminster government in the past months. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the debate has built up momentum and some people’s minds could be changing in favour of an independent Scotland.

If Scotland did become independent, how would it impact Edinburgh and the university?

Back in 2014, independence for Scotland narrowly missed with 55 per cent voting against it whilst 45 per cent voted in favour. Throughout Scotland, you could see the divide as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ stickers painted houses throughout villages and towns.

Over the last six years, the Scottish public’s mind could have changed greatly. Do more people favour independence?

The pandemic might have played a large role in swaying popular opinion due to the differing methods of the handling of rising case numbers. Recently, a survey by Panelbase found that the polls have switched as 55 per cent are in favour and 45 per cent are against. In January, the polls were divided 50/50.

Edinburgh, the country’s capital, has seen many displays of support for a second referendum. Many times this has divided the city and country in half. Old worries still persist with many still noting fears and doubts of Scotland’s economic capabilities and the strength of its industries.

Asking around, one University of Edinburgh student said they recognised how some of their elderly neighbours worry about the economic impact of Scotland leaving the union and how it would impact the city.

One Edinburgh resident told of their worries about the division that independence may cause and whether this would lead to damaging effects. They also mentioned how trying to gain more recognition in Westminster may be more beneficial.

However, one local business owner told of feeling that Edinburgh would be far more insulated from the effects of independence. They stated life would continue; tourists would still come, and the University would still run the same as it always has. For them, independence is not a source of worry but a chance for new opportunities.

The whole pandemic has been defined by a lack of organisation by Westminster and the confusing daily briefings held by the Conservative government. Many University of Edinburgh students appraised the Scottish government and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for handling the situation. The Scottish government has now become tied to competence, and those in power can be depended upon.

One Edinburgh student said: “The Scottish government has handled Covid-19 much more effectively and competently than Westminster. During the pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon was better and clearer about rules that she and the Scottish government imposed.”

This opinion seems to correlate with most of the population: 70-75 per cent believe that Nicola Sturgeon has handled the pandemic well. Each country in the UK has had to enforce their own restrictions, to ensure their cases stayed low.

However, the Scottish government’s actions have been seen as politically fuelled in order to drive forward an independent Scotland.

For the last seven months the country has sat intently watching TVs to stay up to date with the constantly changing rules. Recently, the BBC has decided to reduce its live TV broadcasts of the Scottish government’s coronavirus daily briefings. One Edinburgh resident felt that this choice has left Scotland’s public completely out of touch with new rules chosen by their government. Nicola Sturgeon has stated that these briefings are vital, and many have been left feeling helpless in an unstable time.

However, has it truly only been the pandemic that has changed people’s minds? Even before the pandemic, the election in December 2019 impacted people’s mindsets as they realised the influence Scotland’s votes had over the election.

One University of Edinburgh student said: “the Conservative government wasn’t what Scotland voted for”.

Another aspect that may have changed people’s minds is Brexit. Ever since 2014, the relationship between Westminster and Scotland has accumulated more praise for the ‘Yes’ side of the debate, especially after the ‘No’ campaign used the EU as a main reason to remain part of the union.

The handling of the pandemic has completely changed people’s minds, acting as the final straw for many.

The main worry seems to be the unknown that would come with independence. For many, they are unsure of how Edinburgh will be impacted. Many worry about the economic strength of Scotland without being part of the union, in particular.

All opinions are mixed in together as scores of people voice their optimism for independence, and others their disdain, especially as one account stated that Westminster cannot let it happen. The main reasons for people changing their minds seem to be Brexit and the pandemic. For others, these have just strengthened their belief in it.

The future of independence seems a blurred one as many are unsure of the impact it would have upon their lives. A University of Edinburgh student said that they believed the university and city would be heavily impacted by independence.

“I don’t know if it would be positive or negative.” They mentioned that the city may be changed by this choice, especially the Fringe festival.

Other students worried about the impact it would have upon tourism and interest from international students.

Yet more students believed that Edinburgh would not be impacted heavily by independence and that things across the city would not change drastically. Again, the unknown seems to be the main cause of worry.

Possibly, the tides will change as more decide to support the independence of Scotland. Edinburgh itself may be changed and the University may be impacted, but no one will be sure if it will be for the best.

However, it seems that those within the city are turning away from Westminster towards Holyrood. The population seems to be split down the middle at present, but perhaps it appears more are starting to accept the idea of independence.

Image: Azedeirfactory via Wikimedia Commons