What kind of “family of nations” involves one member repeatedly ordering another around and telling them what they can and cannot do, asks Angus Robertson.
Devolution turned 20 years old this week and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh is firmly established at the heart of public life north of the Border. Holyrood is more accessible, representative, transparent and effective than Westminster. Public policy has diverged significantly from the rest of the UK, including free higher education and free personal care for the elderly.
Scotland has the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world, has brought in ground-breaking minimum pricing for alcohol, banned smoking in public places, progressed land reform, democratised local government, introduced equal marriage and much besides. New institutions include a Scottish Social Security agency and a Scottish Investment Bank, which is in the early stages of establishment.
During this first stage of devolution there has been an ongoing debate about the powers of the parliament and if and when Scotland should become an independent country. The 2014 independence referendum was far closer than some predicted, with 45 per cent of votes cast for Scotland to become a sovereign state.
The subsequent Brexit referendum has caused a great many people to reconsider their 2014 No vote. While England voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted firmly to remain. Having been told by UK politicians to vote No in 2014 to protect our place in Europe, we are now being taken out against our will.
Scotland is currently also faced by the prospect of a UK prime minister that Scotland didn’t vote for, leading us in a damaging direction Scotland also didn’t vote for. Regardless of whether the next PM is Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, they have both repeatedly proven how little they understand about modern Scotland.
Mouthing empty platitudes about defending the Union, they plan to plough on with Brexit regardless. No wonder perhaps, when 63 per cent of Tory members polled recently agreed that Brexit was more important to them than Scotland remaining part of the UK. Both Johnson and Hunt, whose party received only 11.7 per cent of the vote in recent European elections in Scotland, have said they will block Scotland’s democratically elected government from holding another independence referendum.
That, however, is a very dangerous strategy. A majority of people in Scotland want a referendum to take place. Scotland’s party of government has been repeatedly elected to Holyrood and returned an SNP majority of Scottish MPs to Westminster with a manifesto commitment to do so. What kind of “family of nations” involves one member repeatedly ordering another around and telling them what they can and cannot do? That is not a caring family, it is an abusive relationship.
This week, former Scottish Labour minister Malcolm Chisholm told the Edinburgh Evening News that he could vote for independence. The ex-MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith said: ”I think Brexit and the state of the Conservative Party have given a great impetus to the move towards independence. I would go as far as to say if we have continuing Conservative governments independence will become inevitable.”
This view is increasingly common. My research organisation Progress Scotland has established that just over 21 per cent of voters polled in Scotland are open-minded or undecided about Scottish independence. Brexit has become the biggest single reason why people will think about voting Yes next time and a clear majority believe that Scotland will become independent.
Scotland and England have diverged significantly in the last two decades of devolution. That divergence is accelerating as Westminster steers towards Brexit with both main UK parties moving to the political extremes. Between the pull factors of Scotland remaining in Europe and the push factors of Brexit Britain, the prospects for independence look stronger than ever.