Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have been the catalyst for a renewed thrust for Scottish Independence, leaving Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a lot on his plate
Predictions that Brexit, which Scotland overwhelmingly voted against, would strengthen a Scottish demand for breaking away from the Union are coming home to roost. Opinion polls over the last few months suggest that over 52 per cent of the population now favour Scottish Independence.
In a dramatic departure from the 2014 referendum — in which over 55 per cent of the population voted to stay with the Union — for the first time in a series of polls, a decisive majority is in favour of breaking away.
Alarmed by the developments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a visit to Scotland, and there was a flurry of his high-ranking Cabinet colleagues rushing to Scotland to calm the waters. Apparently, all these efforts seem to have had little impact.
In fact, Mr Johnson himself has extremely poor appeal with the Scottish electorate and is unlikely to be able to strike a chord with the population. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister and leader of Scottish National Party (SNP) continue to ride the popularity charts in Scotland. She is firm in her determination for Independence from the UK, more so after BREXIT, and seek a future for it within the EU.
Poll trends suggest that the SNP will win a decisive number of seats in the Scottish parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2021. If this holds true, it may be impossible for Mr Johnson to refuse another referendum on Independence.
Sentiment in favour of separation from the Union has also been bolstered by the coronavirus pandemic as there is a feeling that the Scottish administration has handled the situation far better than London.
Against this backdrop, there has also been a consistent effort by the SNP to reach out to those who voted against Independence in the 2014 referendum, and that seems to be paying off now.
A New York Times article (Aug. 7) points to several political observers commenting that “Scottish National Party’s strategy has long been clear: to appeal to people who voted to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014, but also to stay in the European Union two years later”.
There is also a feeling among analysts that the Johnson administration should have acted early in combating the sentiment and not waited till after clear crystallisation of the pro-independence feeling.
- The demand for another referendum will gain strength and cannot be ignored or stonewalled.
- The swing in favour of Independence is likely to get stronger as Scotland heads towards parliamentary elections, and the absence of a credible leader for the Tories will be a huge liability for the Prime Minister.
- The road ahead is uncertain, and though the sentiment for separation is strong, it could change in a protracted campaign. Economic factors, in the coming months, would play a key role in shaping this sentiment.
Author: T.M. Veeraraghav, Consulting Editor, Synergia Foundation