Scotland is beginning to feel like a different country. They voted by a solid 62 to 38 per cent to stay in the European Union (EU), yet they are about to be dragged out by a Conservative government over 70 per cent of them didn’t vote for in the December 12, general election.
I am on a train heading into Glasgow, Scotland, Friday 13 December, the day after the UK general election. The mood is sombre, no one seems happy, and many seem conflicted by the experience. Two young men directly facing me discuss how ‘Brexit will be a disaster’. They seem utterly dejected by how the events of the previous evening unfolded. I hear one say to the other: ‘I am not British’.
Few could have predicted the outcome of the UK general election and the takeaways are easy. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have completely crushed the opposition and strolled back into Downing Street with an astounding 80 seat majority, their best showing since 1987. Meanwhile, by contrast, their main opponents the Labour Party have recorded their worst election results since 1935. Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party, we discovered, had completely misjudged the mood of the nation, and paid heavily for it, losing seats in the north like Leigh and Blyth, formerly considered watertight, to the Tories.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) also enjoyed a landslide victory taking 48 of the 59 seats signalling a clear rejection in Scotland of both Brexit and Boris Johnson.
“It couldn’t really be clearer now,” Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP told the BBC. “That the majority in Scotland want a very different future to that…chosen by much of the rest of the UK.” (BBC News, Saturday, December 14.)
Sturgeon had fought the campaign by telling the electorate that only by voting SNP would they be able to block Brexit. Her appeal worked, she got the votes she wanted claiming 48 seats. She took seven from the Conservatives and six from Labour, turning 80 per cent plus of Scotland yellow (the colour of the SNP) in the process.
But the victory had a hollow ring to it. As events unfolded across the nation Johnson’s historic win meant that no one could now stop the UK from leaving the European Union, and it was likely that Brexit would happen by January 31, 2020.
No sooner had the backslapping started and the celebrations underway at Matthew Parker Street, Conservative Campaign Headquarters, than the nationalists were claiming a mandate for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
They made the point that while Scotland had voted to stay within the European Union they were now going to be dragged out against their will with the rest of the UK. They also pointed out that while around 74 per cent of the Scottish electorate had rejected the Conservatives, they were, nevertheless, about to be ruled by a Tory regime they hadn’t voted for and clearly didn’t want.
The only answer to this situation, the SNP now claimed, was to hold a second referendum (the eponymous indyref2) on the issue of Scottish independence and give the Scottish people the opportunity to decide their own future.
To do that, however, the SNP would have to secure the agreement of the UK government. To hold a second referendum on the issue of Scottish independence, the SNP need to apply, for what is known as a Section 30, to the government in power at Westminster. With an 80 seat majority it would be difficult to see a ‘One Nation’ Tory like Johnson agreeing.
“They can’t refuse.” Manny Singh, Director of Operations of the Scottish Independence Movement told Inside Over sounding frustrated. “The SNP will beat them in the courts. It would win us even more votes if Westminster refused.”
I suspect Manny may be right. There are signs that those who don’t buy into or necessarily support the Nationalist ideology, are nevertheless beginning to migrate to the independence cause. Disenchanted with the prospect of leaving the European Union, and facing the prospect of living under another Tory regime this trickle might grow.
Sir John Curtice speaking to Emily Maitlis of the BBC, advised that people watch opinion polls about “attitudes towards independence.” Curtice said to pay particular attention at the time the UK leaves the European Union under Johnston’s leadership. He suggests that public attitudes at this time will be very important to the Conservative and SNP governments alike.
Of course, as he also points out, if opinion polls are indicating a majority willing to vote yes to independence it would be hard to believe that those in power at Westminster would feel that saying ‘no’ would be strategically expedient. Like many, John Curtice also felt that should the impasse continue, and with a majority of Scots wishing a say in their future, the SNP may well take their grievance to court.
At the same time and despite their frustration, there is no appetite in Scotland for a Catalonia style go-it-alone referendum. Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations has told me that is not a route the SNP are planning to take. Mr Russell has said that the Scottish government will abide by the UK constitution.
Much, of course, will unfold over the next few weeks, but this has started to feel oddly different.
At the time of the first referendum on September 18, 2014 the yes group had support from 45 per cent of those who voted while 55 per cent opted to remain in the UK. Five years later at the general election the SNP pulled support from 45 per cent of the Scottish electorate, the same proportion as the ‘yes’ movement got at the first referendum.
Yes, you might say it is oddly symmetrical. But who can doubt that in five years things have changed significantly for the people of Scotland? Against their will the vast majority of them are about to be forced to leave the EU, and against their will the vast majority of them are going to be subjected to a Tory government they don’t want.
That change, the SNP claim, means that the Scots must be given the opportunity to have a say in their own future.