Independence is going nowhere as realities take priority – Brian Wilson

The Scottish Nationalists held their National Conference in September during the party conference season and now they have their Annual Conference in November.

SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown insisted a message of "optimism and ambition" for Scotland's future will lead the country to independence at the opening of the SNP annual conference - but the polls show the public have other ideas, writes Brian Wilson. PIC: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Oh well, a lot can happen in two months. For example, North Sea oil has lurched from bedrock of their economic case to pariah status, to be closed down post haste. Maybe bi-monthly conferences are required to “homologate” Ms Sturgeon’s decisions.

We were informed in advance that SNP depute leader Keith Brown will assure the anxious nation that “optimism and ambition” will drive forward the independence cause. I’m not sure Mr Brown, who always strikes me as a slightly Rev. I.M. Jolly character, is quite the man to deliver this message.

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Anyway, the upside of regular conferences is that they are pegs for opinion polls and while these come and go, the ones published this week are of unusual interest because they show a trajectory of travel quite different from Mr Brown’s ambitions.

The circumstances could scarcely be more propitious for the Nationalists. They have the Tory Prime Minister of their dreams, vast amounts of money to dispense from Edinburgh and domination of the Scottish airwaves.

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Throw in Brexit and if they can’t get a consistent 60 per cent support for independence which, once upon a time, Nicola Sturgeon said should be the prerequisite for another referendum, then they never will. But far from that, the numbers are going in the other direction.

A YouGov poll could only muster 40 per cent support for independence after seven years of relentless grievance-seeking and tub-thumping about a second referendum. Just as significant was a Survation poll for Scotland in Union which asked the question in a different form.

In response to a Remain-Leave question, which is how it should be asked, 59 per cent want to stay and 41 per cent to go. Does anyone seriously suggest the future of our country should depend on a form of words, rather than a clear and consistent sentiment? Well, of course they do, so long as it is on the right day. If they got the wrong answer, the same dreary cacophony would start all over again.

Both polls asked questions about voter priorities and came up with virtually identical findings – that independence is rated a “top three” priority by 12 per cent of respondents, trailing far behind the NHS, education and job creation in the post-Covid period – all of these matters on which the current Scottish Government has a mediocre record.

The fall in Ms Sturgeon’s ratings, from the Covid-driven stratosphere to the land of mere mortals, reflects what some of us never doubted – the impact of daily media exposure, unmatched anywhere west of Belarus, which should never have been allowed particularly as an election drew closer and was milked for every percentage point it was worth.

Looking back on the reality of how Scotland’s Covid performance panned out, there is no evidence that Ms Sturgeon’s ubiquity was justified on public health grounds, though it certainly was on political ones. Now the numbers are returning to where they were pre-Covid as more people, on the basis of personal experience, turn their critical faculties to the services they depend on.

It is de rigeur to refer to the supposed hopelessness of Scotland’s opposition parties without any recognition of just how difficult it is to make an impact given the Holyrood formula, the dominance of the SNP/Scottish Government media machine and the power of patronage to silence criticism from quarters it would normally be coming from.

However, the opposition that the Nationalists now need to keep an eye on is the one based on lived experience. The vast majority who do not see independence as a priority are open to persuasion that Scotland’s interests are not best served by another two year constitutional wrangle which is what Ms Sturgeon will be obliged to promise the 12 per cent this weekend, but will only end in one outcome.

The times just might be a’changing with room at the table again for progressive politics through devolution that can make a real and urgent difference for families and communities. So let’s just keep making that case.

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