For a party whose total dominance over the Scottish political landscape was predicated on losing the very referendum they had campaigned for, the SNP seem very keen for a second crack at independence.
As our government flails wildly, attempting to scrape any sort of trade deal from this messy Brexit and the official opposition seems content to repeatedly strike itself in the face, is it any wonder Nicola Sturgeon looks so eager for the second round?
In fact, despite the massive collective freak-out of the British media, don’t be so certain that Tuesday’s intervention by the Scottish First Minister was anything other than clever manoeuvring by a woman long under-appreciated as the U.K.’s smoothest political operator.
Let’s analyse the facts. Whilst it is true that recent polls have placed support for independence at record highs, a more in-depth examination of the figures paints a different picture. A glance at the core demographics shows us the No camp holding a healthy 10-point lead in committed voters (i.e. those convinced of their positions), with a 35% share of the electorate compared to the unionists’ 25%.
Anyone whose political memories reach back a dizzying 9 months to 23rd June will remember how similar statistics ended up leaving the nation’s politicos and pollsters squirming at their own predictions of a victorious Remain camp (the Leave campaign perhaps more so than anybody else).
While headlines might never admit it, public opinion is a weather vane not a monolith. No matter which direction the political winds are blowing this week, come 2019 the Unionists will have to win just over 15% of the Scottish Public, a much less daunting task than the SNP’s 25%. Furthermore, the raw data available suggests that Scots are getting – if anything – more Eurosceptic than ever before, negating Sturgeon’s claim that Brexit has created a previously undiscovered appetite for independence. This appetite is so absent that on the same day that Sturgeon hinted at a second referendum, her own senior economic advisor released a report claiming the country would take 10 years to recover from a Yes vote.
In a nation suffering from referendum fatigue, these are not the conditions in which a shrewd political communicator chooses to launch a renewed bid for independence. This, therefore, begs the question:
Why would the leader of the SNP risk such likely defeat at a time when she commands four times as many seats in Holyrood as her closest rivals?
To this question there are many potential answers, but the most convincing by far is that Sturgeon has no intention of making a successful bid for Scottish independence. Consider this, only a day after the grand design for another independence referendum is unveiled, Sturgeon was already reported to be willing to shelve any referendum plans in return for Scottish access to the Brexit.
Does this sound like the language employed by a committed separatist?
Of course not. Sturgeon – once again – is simply playing political games to force the hand of a Prime Minister who she knows has no desire whatsoever to soften the line on Brexit. Bear in mind, none of this is to say that a referendum will not eventually take place. Just because Sturgeon isn’t aiming for a win, doesn’t mean the SNP won’t happily fight a fight they know they have every chance of losing.
Why? Because losing the battle to leave the union is the political ace of spades that has ensured the SNP’s complete domination over Scottish politics. Every time a referendum is held, it guarantees the SNP the full political support of any Yes voters whilst serving as a reminder to al other Scots of the overbearing power of the English-centric Parliament within the UK.
Essentially a vote to stay reminds the Scottish public that while the SNP may be in power, ultimate control over their affairs is held by that much hated of beasts – British Parliament. For a political party, this is the pinnacle of strategic positioning, complete control over a society’s infrastructure with a handy scapegoat to absolve them of any blame for its troubles.
I’m not saying that Sturgeon doesn’t dream of an independent Scotland at some point down the line, but what we’re seeing now is far more likely to be a reaction to her own disapproval rating reaching 23% than the European referendum result.
This political game will end one of three ways; hypothetically May could concede ground on the Brexit issue (much to the chagrin of her backbenchers who barely appear to be on the leash), but this would seem the least likely. Too much time and media resources have been expended on casting her as the ‘Red white and Blue Brexiteer’ to cede ground to a regional power. Instead, it is more than possible that, to avoid a constitutional crisis for the third time in almost as many years, May will do a deal with the SNP for greater devolution, thereby allowing Sturgeon to return victorious to Holyrood once again.
Of course, if the PM decides to call Sturgeon’s bluff, this gives rise to the possibility of a second referendum in 2019 throwing the country into yet another interminably dull and bitter news cycle.
Regardless, once the First Minister sweeps back once again into power in 2021, you can be fairly safe in assuming it’ll be as a member of the United Kingdom.
Written By: Tom Dore