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Despite the polls, the road to Scottish Independence is paved with obstacles.

For many north of the border, it’s not just the vaccine rollout that represents the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill: it’s recent polling as well. The New Statesman recently forecasted that the Scottish National Party will win a stonking 18-seat majority in May’s parliamentary election and polls over the last year have shown a clear and consistent majority would vote YES in a referendum. However, regardless of the polls, there remain many political hurdles over which the Scottish Independence project will have to leap.

To start with one that isn’t making many headlines at the moment, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s political career hangs in the balance. Ironically, her predecessor and mentor Alex Salmond who led Scotland to the brink of Independence, now represents the most immediate threat to that very project.

The man who was accused of sexual harassment by various women (though cleared on all counts), is claiming Sturgeon has used these accusations and her position in government to destroy his reputation for political gain, thereby breaching the ministerial code. Meanwhile, as his deputy for many years, she is also accused of knowing about and covering up the allegations of Salmond’s allegedly illicit behaviour. In the coming weeks, she will give evidence to a Holyrood committee intending to uncover the truth; senior politicians have been toppled for far, far less.

It is not uncommon in history for movements to dissipate when their leaders fall. At the moment, Sturgeon is Britain’s most articulate, meticulous, and charismatic politician, one of few whose popularity has been boosted by the pandemic. If she is forced to resign in scandal, the SNP would lose a great deal of momentum going into May’s crucial election, and in the long-term, the Independence movement would be badly wounded without its biggest asset.

Assuming she survives and comes out of the election leading the largest majority in Scottish parliamentary history, what’s next? In a recent interview with Andrew Marr, the prime minister suggested he opposed another referendum until around 2055. Given the Conservatives will be in government until at least 2024, will the SNP hold an unauthorised referendum ‘A La Catalana’, subsequently declaring themselves an independent state? If so, this would almost certainly make EU membership (a commitment on which the Independentists can never U-turn because they owe their post-2014 resuscitation to pro-European sentiment) impossible. It goes without saying that member-states such as Spain with vetoes on new members and separatist movements of their own to handle, would never allow a precedent to be set whereby states could declare Independence illegitimately and then be allowed into the world’s largest single market and trading bloc.

But say the pressure of an SNP über-majority in Holyrood is too much for Downing Street to ignore: how, then, does, the YES campaign put together a coherent message for leaving the Union in a referendum? To achieve EU membership, adopting the Euro would no-doubt be a condition from the EU27. Moreover, it’s hard to envisage Scottish EU membership without a hard border with England, since, as we’ve seen with the Brexit negotiations, the one red line the EU will never cross is threatening the integrity of the single market.

When these realities kick in, surely Scottish voters ask themselves: is leaving the UK really worth all this?

The thing is, even if the YES camp parallel Vote Leave and completely forgo any kind of detail when campaigning, the truth of such complexities could threaten Independence, even after a YES win. Because the SNP have rejected, with great success, the result of the last 2 referendums, a strong precedent has been set that it’s okay to disregard them.

Thus, if having been spared the small print in a referendum campaign, Scottish voters come to regret voting to leave the UK, who’s to say they wouldn’t, in an election, vote for parties campaigning to remain in the UK regardless? In this sense, the SNP are victims of their own success.

It is for this reason, that even an Independence win in a referendum authorised by the UK government doesn’t guarantee that Scottish Independence will actually happen.

To be clear, this is not an attempt to pass judgement on whether Independence is or isn’t the right course of action or what could happen to Scotland once Independent. Rather, the focus has been purely on whether the goal of Independence itself is politically achievable. To be sure, it definitely is, but a whole host of brick walls will need to be overcome.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons