Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Scotland will not vote for independence in a second referendum

The independence cause is now synonymous with the SNP. To a great degree it always was, but during the last referendum campaign they were joined by the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and lots of other organisations representing different sections of Scottish society. But these were always minor players and the aftermath of the 2014 referendum saw most of this rainbow coalition for independence collapse into the SNP. Membership grew to over 100,000. With this sort of movement you would expect support for independence to have increased, but according to the latest opinion polls the Yes vote is currently on about 40%. Even during all the upheaval over Brexit it only got to over 50% in one poll. 

By the time that any second independence referendum takes place the SNP Scottish Government will be deeply unpopular. This is the standard unpopularity of incumbent governments after a time, but that dissatisfaction with the SNP will spill over into the referendum campaign. Add to this continuing depressed oil revenue and the, still unresolved, currency issue and you have a toxic mix. It will be exceedingly difficult to get a majority for Yes second time around. Even now there are a significant group of Yes voters who have switched to No. As many as have switched the other way according to some polling organisations. It is possible that Yes would only achieve around 40% in a referendum rerun. Current polls seem to suggest this.

The problem with discussing this is that everyone seems to have their fingers in their ears while going "la-la-la I am not listening".  When I suggested this scenario on social media I got jumped on by people for whom the independence cause is a religion which cannot be questioned. They are the fundamentalists of the Scottish cause. Strong supporters of the SNP for whom independence is more important than workers rights; more important than environmental protection and, yes, more important than beating the Conservatives. Because their enemy is the Labour Party, particularly "municipal" Labour, with whom they fought many hard local election campaigns. There is no love lost between them and many in the SNP relish killing off labour as much as they do independence itself. Yet as Labour has moved to the left, the SNP has been left as the last guardians of Blairite economics, with a strong focus on private industry and profit as the key to Scotland's future, and content to be better managers of the existing system rather than trying to change it. This is something the independence fundamentalists are unable to recognise. And while the say they want to win a second referendum they are quite happy to cannibalise their own vote by refusing to engage with anyone who is sceptical because they are obviously not "true believers". Exactly the people they need to persuade in order to win a Yes vote.

Of course, this all supposes that the UK government agrees to hold a second referendum on independence. How likely is this? Well, the most likely way I can see this happening would be if the SNP gained enough seats at the next Westminster election to make a coalition with Labour the only way to keep out the Conservatives. Even if that happened would Labour be willing to make a deal? Locked in a fight to the death with the SNP in Scotland, Labour might be willing to sacrifice restricted power in Westminster in order to kill off the independence cause. In other words: don't hold your breath.

Another scenario would be if falling oil revenues stoked demands from back-bench Conservatives for the government to scrap the Barnett formula. If that was combined with greater autonomy for English regions then there may be a section of the conservative party who want to get rid of the Scottish "problem". This would be uncharted territory and might lead to a referendum with a successful Yes vote.

Alternatively, the May Conservative Government might just decide to call a referendum to call the SNP's bluff: dangerous though, given how the Brexit vote went. I can't see them really taking that risk.

The upshot of all this is that with Scottish independence looking very unlikely we need to find other ways to protect worker's rights, the environment, food standards and all the other things that are under threat from the shift to the right in British politics. This is where our energies should be rather than wishing for another referendum.


No - I don't think Scotland is "too wee", "too poor", or "too stupid" to survive on it's own. I just don't think our future should be reliant on a referendum that is unlikely to take place and which is even less likely to be won, even though I voted Yes last time.

As always, this is an opinion piece. Please leave a comment below as I have trouble keeping track of social media.