Think SNP's troubles mean Scottish independence is dead? Think again – Michael Sturrock

As we witness the unfolding of concerning events regarding the SNP’s past governance, it is tempting to think this upset will put a nail in the independence coffin.

I sincerely doubt it. I’m sure, as I was before Nicola Sturgeon resigned that, in time, the tide of public opinion will wash untethered over the beaches of independence. Similarly, as a No-to-Yesser, I remain as convinced about the merits of independence as I was only months ago.

Yes, there might be a wider dip in independence support in the short term, but it won’t last. Why am I so confident? As every politician will tell you, the key to the future is young people. I am someone who sits in the middle of the 16-35 cohort, among which there is northwards of 65 per cent of support for independence.

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This support is often regarded as temporary and a symptom of young idealism. Many think independence support will diminish with age, especially when twinned with what seems like increasing upheaval at the heart of the independence movement. Don’t make that mistake.

Let me take you through my age-cohort’s experience of life as part of the UK, then you can make a judgement about whether we are simply young idealists or are making a logical choice that will remain so even as we age and despite controversy within pro-independence ranks.

The first big economic and political ‘event’ many of us experienced in any real way was the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. It began years of depressing news and a sense of overarching decline.

While this was going on, the 2010 election saw the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. George Osborne announced his “fundamental reassessment" of how government worked. The austerity project and the decimation of public services began. Lives and livelihoods were ruined by a policy that economists now ridicule.

Then, an opportunity to change the UK-wide voting system to be more representative and democratic was squandered through a misleading campaign by those who benefitted from the status quo. Unemployment reached a 17-year average high in 2012. This was felt most acutely by young people, of whom nearly one in four were jobless.

The level of support for Scottish independence among young voters is high, and there are reasons why they won't grow out of it (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)The level of support for Scottish independence among young voters is high, and there are reasons why they won't grow out of it (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)
The level of support for Scottish independence among young voters is high, and there are reasons why they won't grow out of it (Picture: Lesley Martin/PA)

In 2012, another defining UK policy direction was established. Theresa May’s “hostile environment” immigration and asylum policy has disgraced the nation ever since, culminating in a callous approach to migrants crossing the Channel and the Rwanda asylum policy we see today.

Along came the 2014 independence referendum. Regardless of how we voted (mea culpa) the litany of promises about the UK’s future by the Better Together campaign turned out to be false: voting No did not secure our EU membership; “The Vow” and promise of a “fully federal” UK within two years remain unfulfilled; the “broad shoulders” of the UK have not delivered economic growth and declining energy prices.

Next, the 2015 general election. David Cameron capitulates to his party’s hard-right, anti-EU minority for political expediency. The Brexiteer movement is given credence. Their pursuit of a fundamentalist, free-market desire for low standards and deregulation packaged in a jingoistic romanticism of the good old days of the British Empire becomes a mainstream view. It is antithetical to the beliefs of young people.

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Then there was the gut punch of the Brexit vote itself. Young people watched in horror as our EU citizenship and opportunities to live, work and study in 27 other countries was stolen. In the following months, the Leave campaign’s use of social media to target voters with false information is revealed, underpinning the corruption of UK democracy.

Years of hostile, embarrassing and disingenuous approaches to the negotiations with the EU came next. Johnson, a principal architect of Brexit, becomes Prime Minister. The stark contrast in views of young people (and most Scots) to those of the UK Government is revealed again.

Promises of great, ‘oven-ready’ deals prove to be a lie. The hard-Brexit reality sets the UK on course for economic decline and its standing in the world is dramatically reduced. New negative consequences of Brexit reveal themselves daily, recently precipitating food shortages last seen in the rationing era.

Following this, Covid. The disease itself is not the UK Government’s fault. But the £21 billion lost to Covid fraud and the £9 billion lost in inept or corrupt Tory PPE deals are. In comes Liz Truss. Without a democratic mandate, she imposes economic self-harm and incompetence at never-before-seen levels, and £30 billion is wiped from the UK economy by the Kwarteng mini-budget.

Throughout this time, the inter-generational wealth gap grows as fast as the prospect of young people becoming homeowners shrinks. The UK becomes one of the most unequal developed nations. The standard of living is at its lowest for a generation. Homelessness and poverty grow exponentially as a result. Hate crimes rise against minorities, thanks to fundamentalist anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT policies of successive UK Governments.

On top of this, the existential challenge of climate change poses dangers that dwarf all the above. That’s not the UK Government’s fault, but the UK is set to miss its climate targets and the plain fact is that Scotland – and young people – are more ambitious.

The political alternatives offer no solutions. Labour and the Lib Dems have resigned themselves to going along with Brexit. Labour’s proposals to re-vamp the UK are a sticking plaster on a punctured artery. Moreover, they have been drawn into the Tory battleground of campaigning with blatant mistruths. Recent Labour adverts claimed, among other things, that Rishi Sunak doesn’t think child abusers should go to prison. Really?

Put yourselves in our position. Do you think there are any circumstances, even a slew of grim news from the main independence party, that would cancel out our abysmal experience as part of the UK and inspire support for the Union? The calculation is simple. If the key to the future is young people, the future begets independence.

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Michael Sturrock is an SNP parliamentary staffer and activist



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