In the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016, Scotland seemed to be on the brink of independence. Scots rejected Brexit by an overwhelming 24-point margin (62 percent to 38 percent), prompting Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon – the head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh – to start preparing the ground for a fresh referendum on separation from the UK.
Support for independence surged. Enthusiasm for the 310-year-old union with London melted away. Sturgeon caught the mood of the Scottish public when she described the prospect of Scotland being stripped of its EU membership by eurosceptic voters in England and Wales as ‘democratically unacceptable’.
Since then, however, Scotland’s First Minister has been forced into a dizzying strategic retreat. Nationalist sentiment has ebbed. The SNP lost 21 of its 56 MPs at the British general election last June. And plans for a rerun of the first independence poll in 2014, which saw 55 percent of Scots opt to remain part of the UK, were abruptly shelved.
The question of when another independence referendum should take place, and of how it could be won, is now the source of an increasingly bitter rift within the once-unified ranks of Scotland’s nationalist movement.
Last week, Pete Wishart, the SNP’s longest-serving MP, urged independence supporters to be patient in their demands for ‘indyref2’. Staging another referendum too soon and losing, he warned, would be terminal for Scottish nationalism, as it has been for the secessionist campaign in Quebec.
“The lesson from Quebec is that a defeated second referendum could set back the cause of independence by decades,” Wishart wrote. “[And] there is no guarantee that the movement would bounce back”.
The online response was savage. Hardcore SNP activists rounded on Wishart, questioning his commitment to independence and even accusing him of being a ‘poster boy’ for a pro-UK lobbying group, Scotland in Union. But behind the Twitter frenzy, a more nuanced critique of Wishart’s position could be found.
Many senior nationalists believe the window for another referendum is rapidly closing. They point to polls indicating that Scotland’s two main pro-independence parties – the SNP and the Greens – are on course to lose their combined majority in the Scottish Parliament at the next devolved election in 2021, which would create a sizeable legislative stumbling block to self-government.
Instead, they want Sturgeon to call a vote on independence either just before or just after the UK formally exits the EU in March 2019. This, they argue, would allow Scotland to escape the economic upheaval of Brexit, salvage its place in Europe, and bring the curtain down on a decade of UK government austerity cuts.
“Decisions made in Scotland are better decisions for Scotland,” Chris McEleny, a candidate in the SNP’s ongoing deputy leadership race, stated this week. “That is why I believe we should have a referendum on our independence within the next 18 months.”
In reality, if Sturgeon did decide to gamble on a snap poll, the conditions for a nationalist victory would be far from favourable.
The Scottish electorate is in no rush to renew the battle over Scotland’s constitutional status. According to one recent survey, nearly 60 percent of Scots oppose holding another referendum at any point in the next few years, while just 30 percent of Scots actively expect independence to occur within the next 10 to 20 years.
This has been excerpted from: ‘Rushing into a second referendum would doom Scottish independence’.