The Scots are a stoic bunch. On a cold, wet and windy Saturday in January, when only dogs and their owners braved the elements, an estimated 80,000 of them marched through the sodden streets of Glasgow to demand Scottish independence. They came in good voice and brought all their coloured flags, the red and yellow of Catalonia, the blue and white of the Scottish saltire.
When asked, they said remarkably similar things. Why are you marching? ‘Because we voted to stay in Europe (by 62 per cent to 38 per cent) and we are being hauled out against our will. We voted overwhelmingly for the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the general election – the SNP won 48 of the 59 seats available in Scotland – but we, nevertheless, have a Conservative government ruling over us in London.’
John a former coal miner from Glasgow revealed he had once been a staunch supporter of the Labour Party.
“Things have changed now,” He told InsideOver. “I feel that now is the time for independence for Scotland. We are being dragged down a road that we don’t want to go by Westminster. We vote time and again for our own MP’s and we end up with a foreign country ruling us.”
The foreign country in question? England, Wales and Northern Ireland collectively known (with Scotland) as the United Kingdom.
“Independence for Scotland,” John continued. “Means that we are going to… vote in our own government, we can have a Labour government…Conservative government, you can have Liberals…whoever you like. Independence doesn’t mean that Scotland is going to be ruled by the SNP, people must realise this. If we come out with a strong Labour party who have policies and the vision to take Scotland along people would go with that.”
John is not alone in his disaffection with the Scottish Labour Party. As recently as the 2010 UK general election, the party had secured 41 of the 59 Scottish seats available. By 2019 that majority had been reduced to one seat. In nine years they had lost a remarkable 40 seats.
On the day of the march their leader Richard Leonard was trying to steer his party in the direction of a spring conference to, at least, consider and discuss the issue of a second referendum on Scottish independence.
His efforts to find a middle road, however, ended in humiliating defeat.
The Scottish Labour Party, by their actions, seem to want to drive a wedge between themselves and the contemporary sentiments of increasingly large swathes of the Scottish population.
Scottish Labour’s refusal to acknowledge the complexities of Scotland’s political landscape, the debate around independence, and the dissonance between what the Scots’ vote for and what is forced upon them seems shortsighted. It leaves the SNP looking as if they are the only political grouping in Scotland remotely interested in the concerns of the majority of Scottish people and they have sought to capitalise on that.
But the political situation in Scotland is far from simple.
Despite the upbeat atmosphere I couldn’t help but think the weather was symbolic. This was more of a damp, good-spirited trudge than a full-blooded revolution.
Perhaps, it mirrors the near 50/50 split in Scotland between those who demand independence, and certainly a second referendum on the issue, and those who are not so sure and who would – for now – remain as part of the United Kingdom.
Similarly, while the SNP claimed 81 per cent of the seats available, they only polled 45 per cent of the total Scottish vote. The same as they claimed in the referendum for Scottish independence of September 2014.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative government, now firmly installed in parliament with an 80 seat majority following the December 2019 election, has sent a letter to SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon telling her there would be NO second referendum on independence.
Johnston suggested the SNP carry out the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland who voted to remain in the UK in September 2014, and concentrate on running the country properly. He also reminded the SNP that they agreed, at the time, that this would be a once in a generation referendum.
Sturgeon countered by saying that the situation north of the border had changed significantly in the intervening five years plus. So much to warrant indyref2. She believed that Johnston was now ‘denying’ Scotland a democratic say in its future.
Frustrated by this turn of events one Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil has suggested that Holyrood organise its own, what he termed as a “legal referendum”. He then suggested that, rather than take the Catalonia go-it-alone route, the Scottish parliament should then wait and see if Westminster challenged the concept of a second referendum in the courts. Mr MacNeil also suggested making the 2021 Holyrood elections a mandate for indyref2.
But, many have been critical of the SNP’s handling of their internal policies, especially concerning Scottish education and health. Many have criticised them for being singularly obsessed with independence to the detriment of the country’s domestic situation.
Questions have also been raised on the nature of the Scottish political landscape given independence. Would there be a bicameral democratic infrastructure? I have asked the nationalists and have still to receive a definitive answer. Some have also asked what currency would be used, and how would all the attendant dangers of launching Scottish money be avoided (sufficient reserves and so on)? Yet others have been alarmed by and questioned the present £12.5 billion deficit, seven per cent of GDP – six times the level in the rest of the UK – which would, on current rules, and ironically, prevent an independent Scotland from re-entering the European Union.
Key moments will come when the UK finally leaves the European Union and the May 2021 elections to the devolved parliament in Edinburgh.
It would be hard to deny the waves of change battering the shoreline of Scotland. There is unrest, a Scottish Labour Party lost in its march to oblivion, and the SNP, whose nationalist ideology is not universally popular, but present the only glimmer of light disenchanted Scots can gather around.
But it also seems certain that Johnson and his government will not entertain a second referendum in this government’s lifetime, and he, given his 80 seat majority, could be in power for a long time.