A national delusion? Case for indyref2 couldn’t be stronger - Lesley Riddoch

Is the case for Scottish independence a ‘national delusion’ as a weekend commentator described it, terminally banjaxed by Boris Johnson’s implacable opposition to a second independence vote?

When free of the Covid crisis, Nicola Sturgeon will start building a fresh case for indyref, says Lesley Riddoch

True, it’s hard to see the precise route twixt here and there or any definite timetable for indyref2.

But it’s equally hard to see how the union survives, while it’s headed by the least credible Prime Minister in recent history, whose party most Scots oppose and whose Covid crisis ‘management’ most Scots deplore.

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Boris has become a by-word for blatant, unapologetic, to-the-manor-born, incompetence, north of the border. Yet in our ‘union of equals’, such a man gets to dictate terms. That creates a tactical stumbling block for the cause of independence - agreed. But nothing like the moral vacuum which now sits at the heart of the union.

So, the prospect of an ‘eternal Boris’ cuts both ways.

The other argument is that Covid, the oil crash, the furlough scheme and the deep pockets of HM Treasury have made the independence argument harder to win. Basically, Britain has a lot of (our) money, the future is unpredictable, money is tight and independence negotiations will be tricky.

As tricky as Brexit?

Still, let’s agree. Nicola Sturgeon will have to revise plans for the future, but then so will everyone else, including the UK Government. Yet the only political leader currently refusing to adapt to circumstance, is the Tin Man who insists his economy-pulping Brexit must go ahead as ‘planned’ in December, come hell or high water. Who in Scotland regards this is remotely credible? Even polling guru John Curtice described the Prime Minister’s political agenda as “torn to shreds” by the coronavirus. Yet he ploughs on.

Do feelings of solidarity encouraged during the pandemic, compensate for the abject, cringe-worthy failings of the British Government?

It’s true that Scots, clapping on doorsteps were applauding the efforts of super-humanly-caring NHS staff right across Britain. But Scottish independence has never been about snubbing folk across the border. It’s about leaving the broken structures that leave those heroic workers dependent on charity raised by a centenarian shuffling round his home, or a planned one-off bonus (that still isn’t guaranteed). Part-privatisation has hobbled the health service in England and made competition for resources, under-funding, under-resourcing and bankrupt hospitals entirely normal.

Yet millions of voters south of the border consciously re-elected the very party that blocked a pay rise for nurses, allowed Virgin to run health trusts, dreamt up and then hurriedly dropped an Immigration Bill that would have stopped the flow of foreign care workers, brassnecked its way through the Dominic Cummings scandal and deflected its way past the highest Covid death toll in the world. Yet this tarnished bunch would still win a working majority if there was a General Election tomorrow. All three opinion polls published at the weekend show the Tories ahead of Labour by 3-4 points, with 42% preferring Boris Johnson as Prime Minister to Keir Starmer (32%).

It won’t just be Yessers wondering, what planet are English voters living on?

Of course, it’s theoretically possible a Labour government may be elected at the next time election, but that doesn’t need to happen until 2024.

For independence supporters who back Nicola Sturgeon’s preference for an internationally recognised referendum that smoothes the path to EU membership, it’s a long time to wait, with no guarantee that a hung parliament will force Keir Starmer’s hand. But the same is true for ‘one-last-push’ supporters - if Labour’s new leader can’t actually beat Boris Johnson, who or what ever will? The case for the Union depends on the increasingly fanciful notion that a Labour government that’s truly progressive (in Scottish terms) could get elected south of the border and stay in power long enough to make fundamental changes to Britain.

Are the odds on that any better than the odds on indyref2 in 2021?

I’d guess that undecided Scots are currently examining the balance of arguments for and against the union - emotional, financial, cultural and practical and can probably agree that recent months have shaken the case for the status quo.

But what’s the alternative?

The present Covid oil-shock, will make permanent changes to Scotland’s political and economic landscape. On the plus side, we’ve all seen what governments can do when they finally hit fifth gear, demonstrate a real sense of urgency and encourage society-wide buy-in. We’ve watched vacuum cleaning companies switch to make ventilators, handbag manufacturers adapt to make face-masks and distilleries volunteer to make hand-gel. We get it. With leadership and support, big change is possible. Scotland needs to repurpose its economy in the same transformational way - shifting Scotland’s world-beating expertise in oil and gas extraction into systems and technologies for an oil-free future. Our small but smart Nordic and Baltic neighbours are already on that case, creating joint investment programmes. But Scotland can’t join. We aren’t an independent country and we don’t even control energy policy. Is this how we best tackle the need for seismic change - with both hands tied firmly behind our backs?

Of course, voters need to see a wholehearted and energetic programme for independence. Once Covid isn’t occupying every waking moment of Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministerial team, they need to get it.

Independence supporters fear that the SNP leadership may fail to seize any sudden opportunity to test the public mood, because they have no complete, new independence offer researched and agreed and the Yes movement is too disorganised to stiffen the Scottish Government’s resolve. So, it’s true that many Yes supporters want dates and guarantees from Nicola Sturgeon, but I’d guess many more want to see new, convincing, post- Covid independence strategies first.

So right now, I’d guess most folk are weighing the evidence and watching the balance shift. The indisputable fact is that the British Government simply cannot be trusted. It may be powerful. It may have a lot of our cash. We may have difficulty believing that our own small country could see us through bad times and good, just like the Covid success stories of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand and Estonia.

Small is beautiful. Every crisis proves it - and this one’s no exception.

But until that’s under control, it won’t be easy to move on far-reaching constitutional change.

That, however, will change.

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