- Tom Lowe
Sturgeon triumphant? Why Indyref2 may be closer than we think
By TOM LOWE
On September 18 2014, the Scottish independence movement received a tremendous blow-- the results of the independence referendum showed 55.3% of the population in favour of remaining in the union. Former First Minister Alex Salmond resigned, only to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon, who ran unopposed. Whilst many unionists expected the calls for an independent Scotland to die down following the result, the opposite happened. Sturgeon proved herself to be a determined and decisive leader, leading the Scottish National Party to a landslide victory in the 2015 General Election, winning 56 out of 59 available seats - a majority maintained following successive elections in 2017 and 2019.
Last month, the Supreme Court began considering over 8,000 pages of legal documents outlining the case as to whether the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh, has the authority to stage a second independence referendum on October 19 2023, without Westminster’s consent. Whilst the Court’s President, Lord Reed, stated that this case was ‘the tip of the iceberg’ on a potential path to Scottish independence, there is no denying that the Court’s eventual ruling will be the most significant development in the independence movement since the 2014 Referendum.
Sturgeon, galvanised by this news, announced the publication of the third paper in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series. She labelled it a ‘prospectus for an independent Scotland’. In her speech, Sturgeon lambasted Westminster not only for their disastrous handling of Brexit (which, I may point out, Scotland voted against) - which has costed the economy more than the expenses incurred for Covid - but also, for its incompetence in making ‘calamitous’ decisions during the cost-of-living crisis.
When making a case for an independent Scotland, Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party (SNP) often point to the usual suspects – Brexit, successive Conservative governments (that Scotland hasn’t voted for since 1959), and the consistent underfunding of vital public services that have plagued the Barnett formula (an annual calculation by Westminster on the allocation of funding for the Scottish government) for over 12 years.
However, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics, and there have been various developments in British politics since the Court began considering this case, developments which have the potential to trigger a second independence referendum, colloquially dubbed ‘Indyref2’.
Liz Truss’s government’s collapse embodies the Westminster system’s dysfunction. Sturgeon sees Westminster as a broken hierarchy that may occasionally seek to detoxify its image by changing the leader, but a broken hierarchy nonetheless. If Scottish nationalists ever wanted to portray Holyrood as a viable alternative to the chaos and incompetence of a self-serving Westminster, now is the time.
First, it was Cameron, then May, then Johnson, then Truss, and now Rishi Sunak. Sunak is the fifth, yes fifth, prime minister to be in power during Sturgeon’s tenure. Already his government finds itself in turmoil – a humiliating U-turn on attending COP27, a Home Secretary returning to the job just six days after resigning, and a Minister without a Portfolio being forced out of office following allegations of bullying. This combination of governmental blunders provides fertile ground for a reinvigorated case of independence to be made upon.
Westminster, and the Conservative Party, in particular, has never appeared so broken. Resignations, scandals, and policy U-turns are one thing, but the problems with the government go much further than that. The Tories have burnt their economic credibility to the ground with the 38-day chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, implementing a mini-budget that cost the country £30bn, crippled the pound, and wrought havoc upon the mortgage market. The lack of a democratic mandate from Truss and Sunak indicates an increasingly centralised government that continues to alienate and ignore the interests of the devolved institutions, particularly Holyrood.
The past two months have been some of the most turbulent in British political history. Sturgeon, backed by a majority of independence-supporting parties in Holyrood, could exploit this volatility and make a fresh case for Indyref2. An independent Scotland could be portrayed as escaping the money-grubbing and opportunistic culture dominating Westminster.
It may take months for the Supreme Court to decide on Holyrood’s authority regarding an independence referendum. Still, there is no denying the leverage Sturgeon and the SNP currently hold on swaying public opinion towards a ‘Yes’ vote. Indeed an independent Scotland must seem more appealing than a country governed by a party that has imploded twice in the space of three months.
Sunak, a man with no democratic mandate to be in Number 10, has a mountainous task ahead of him to quell the dreams of an independent Scotland. Sturgeon’s popularity in Scotland remains more potent than the leaders of other major parties in Holyrood. When the dust settles from the cost-of-living crisis, it seems incredibly likely that calls for Indyref2 will be renewed, and this time, they may just be successful. If Sturgeon gets her wish and plays her cards right, by this time next year, it is very possible that the ‘United Kingdom’ will be a thing of the past.
Image: Flickr/ Scott Campbell