How times have changed: Why independence is now a vote loser – Scotsman comment

Populist politics has been a voter winner for years but that could be about to change at the July 4 general election

Given support for independence has remained between 40 and 50 per cent in polls this year, while the SNP’s numbers have slid towards the bottom of the 30s, the message from party strategists to nationalist candidates might seem obvious: focus on constitutional politics – the central reason why Scotland has had an SNP-led government for 17 years.

However, it appears that Scotland’s politics has changed with polling experts warning that pushing too hard on independence is likely to backfire and prompt even more ‘soft’ SNP voters to switch to Labour. A recent YouGov poll found Labour had a 10-point lead over the SNP in Scotland, with a quarter of those who voted “Yes” at the 2014 referendum planning to back Keir Starmer and co.

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One explanation for the drift to Labour despite strong independence support is based on priorities: many of those who would like to see Scotland leave the UK accept this is not going to happen in the immediate future and think it’s significantly more important to relieve the Conservative government of its duties. Witnessing the damage caused by Brexit – another nationalist project – may also be making some supporters shy away from triggering another cataclysmic constitutional event in these troubled times.

Many who voted yes in the 2014 independence referendum are planning to vote Labour in the general election (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Many who voted yes in the 2014 independence referendum are planning to vote Labour in the general election (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Many who voted yes in the 2014 independence referendum are planning to vote Labour in the general election (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Just as the SNP has clung desperately to independence like a lifeboat when lost at sea, the Conservatives have sought to please the pro-Brexit crowd by playing up immigration as a main election issue. But again, this ignores the reasons why Rishi Sunak’s government is about 20 points behind Labour in UK polls: the parlous state of the economy, the NHS and public services in general.

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The vote-winning magic of these two forms of populism is waning because voters are unhappy with the reality of life under governments run by those who punt this stuff. In place of ministers who pay lip-service to the NHS, they are crying out for ones who will save this much-loved British institution. So at this election, there is hope that politicians will finally rediscover what government is all about – making people’s lives better – and learn the danger to their careers posed by relying over-much on empty rhetoric.

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