Ian Swanson: EU vote hasn’t given Nicola Sturgeon independence bounce she needs

Nicola Sturgeon delivers her keynote conference speech. Picture: Getty
Nicola Sturgeon delivers her keynote conference speech. Picture: Getty
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WHO’D have thought it? A new poll claims Scots are more optimistic than people in the rest of the UK. It may go against the national stereotype - where “not too bad” is as enthusiastic as it gets and an observation about glorious sunshine is met with the response “we’ll pay for it” – but the figures in the BBC survey were stark.

Around 36 per cent of those north of the border think the best is yet to come with just 29 per cent believing things were better in the past, while in England just 17 per cent believe their country’s best is still to come and 49 per cent say its heyday has gone.

According to the survey it was ­supporters of independence who were most upbeat about the future.

A separate study, for the respected British Social Attitudes survey, found Scots voters in general are now much more positive about the financial consequences of independence than they were prior to the 2014 referendum.

Around 41 per cent now believe the economy would be made better by leaving the UK, compared with 26 per cent in 2014.

Only 35 per cent now think independence would make the economy worse, compared to 43 per cent in 2014.

All these figures are encouraging for the SNP, though the research was carried out before publication of the party’s Sustainable Growth Commission report with its “realistic” warning about the need for ten years’ restraint in public spending after a Yes vote and keeping the pound for the foreseeable future without a currency union.

But support for independence seems stuck stubbornly at around the same 45 per cent level it reached in the referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon did all she could at the SNP conference in Aberdeen at the weekend to lower expectations about another vote any time soon, telling the delegates to focus not just on the “when” but the “why” of independence and the importance of persuading a majority to support it. Meanwhile, Brexit is overshadowing the debate on Scotland’s future and, according to polling guru ­Professor Sir John Curtice, causing difficulties for the SNP.

He says what once seemed such an opportunity for the independence movement has now become a ­problem. Whereas four years ago Brexit was not a dividing issue, with Leave and Remain supporters roughly equally likely to vote Yes to independence, latest findings show as many as 60 per cent of Remain supporters and only 40 per cent of Leave supporters would vote Yes now.

Perhaps it’s no wonder Ms ­Sturgeon says she wants to postpone a decision on a second referendum until the “fog” of Brexit clears.

If Brexit becomes a catastrophe it could yet help deliver the SNP’s dream of an independent Scotland. As the First Minister said in a weekend interview: “Change is happening. Brexit makes change inevitable, so there is an opportunity to debate the kind of change we want and how we shape that.”

If the status quo is no longer on offer, Scots may prefer to go it alone than share in a disastrous Brexit.

But despite the newly-discovered optimism, Scots are still likely to be cautious.

Ms Sturgeon might do well to bear in mind the remark of the late Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, who declared: “I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat.”