Brexit is turning Scots against independence, which is seen as an “alien concept” to many young voters in the new, globally connected world, according to the head of the pro-Union campaign.
Scotland in Union chief Pamela Nash says it’s “very clear” that Scotland will reject independence as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to set out her plans for a second referendum in the coming weeks.
And the prospect of the SNP government seeking to hold its own “Catalonia-style” vote without the authority of Westminster, which has control over the constitution, would be a mistake, she warns.
But the claims on voting intentions have been rejected by the SNP, which insists that polling evidence indicates young voters are moving towards Yes.
The pro-Union campaign has stepped up activity in recent months with town hall meetings, high street stalls and a presence at a range of other events. Sturgeon cranked up the pressure on Theresa May on the independence issue at Downing Street last week, suggesting the Prime Minister is afraid of the verdict of the Scottish people.
The nationalist government says that Scots deserve an alternative to the Brexit chaos and will increasingly be driven towards supporting independence.
But Nash, a former Labour MP, said: “It’s having the opposite impact on people’s views on another independence referendum in Scotland.
“People see the chaos that has ensued and they don’t feel that they need more constitutional chaos with another independence referendum in Scotland.
“We see very clearly now the difficulties of breaking up decades of political union, but those difficulties would be exponentially bigger if we were breaking up a centuries-old union.
“The UK is an important political union, but it’s not just that, it’s the economy and, most importantly, it’s our shared culture and history.
“I can understand why that question is being asked, but it’s just not what we’re seeing and it’s also not what’s playing out in the polls either.
“Polling has not moved in every single poll that was taken over the past year.
“People see those differences and they actually want stability. They don’t want to go through even more turmoil.”
According to Nash, the recent feedback from meetings around the country and events like Glasgow and Edinburgh Pride is that Brexit has altered the views of many about Scotland being in the UK.
She said: “They don’t want to cut off those opportunities and they want to keep that as open as possible. That has had a big impact which the SNP has not reflected.
“The world has continued to become increasingly interconnected. We were making these arguments in 2014, but that has developed much, much faster than we would have anticipated,” said Nash.
“That is the argument we will be putting to the younger generation as well – that it’s an alien concept to put up more barriers and borders when the world is much more interconnected; when we want to travel and we want to work with people throughout the world when we’re sitting in our own living rooms.
“I’ve spoken to young people who since Brexit have changed their minds on the support they had for Scotland being independent before – it made them think again.”
But the SNP insists the most recent polling from Panelbase indicates 65 per cent of Scots aged 18 to 34 would vote Yes in an independence referendum. This has steadily increased over the past year as the Brexit chaos has intensified, according to surveys from a variety of pollsters.
Nationalist MSP George Adam dismissed Nash’s claims as “demonstrably untrue”.
“This simply exposes how rattled the SiU are by the consistent polling which shows that – by a factor of two to one – young Scots overwhelmingly back independence,” he said.
Scotland in Union formed in early 2015 as the dust settled on the previous year’s independence referendum. Its aim was to make the pro-Union case as support for the SNP soared.
But despite the political upheaval of the past four years, the one constant has been the level of support for independence, which has remained broadly around the same 45 per cent level it stood at when the referendum was held.
“There’s a need for Scotland to continually make the positive case for remaining in the United Kingdom, which could easily be lost at the moment with everything that’s going on,” said Nash. The fact is that it’s still the best way forward for Scotland’s future to have increased stability and opportunities and the global influence of being part of the UK.
“We do need a continued campaign to make that case. The polls haven’t changed much, but we would want to increase support further.”
For those who might be tempted to vote for Scotland to leave the UK as a means of rejoining the European Union, Nash said there was no easy route to becoming a member.
“The evidence points towards a lengthy application process with no guarantees at the end,” she said.
Recent weeks have seen senior SNP figures such as former deputy leader Jim Sillars and MP Pete Wishart urge a more cautious approach to a second referendum until the case has been made and victory looks assured.
But Sturgeon is also facing growing calls from grassroots activists and the Greens at Holyrood to forge ahead and call a second vote.
The First Minister has been accused of “playing to the gallery” in recent statements on the issue.
“For any party leader there’s an element of having to keep their own supporters onside – there’s no doubt that’s what Nicola is doing,” said Nash.
Similarly Sturgeon’s pledge to announce her timetable has been put back a number of times as the Brexit chaos ensued.
“We were first expecting that last June and that’s continued. It keeps getting put off every few weeks,” said Nash.
The Scottish Government has always been clear in public that the 2014 referendum – held after a Section 30 order was agreed with Westminster – was the “gold standard” for holding such votes.
But recent weeks have seen suggestions from leading SNP figures to look at the option of a “Catalan-style” referendum, which would see a vote staged “illegally” by the Scottish Government without a Section 30 order from Westminster. Reports have even indicated that the Scottish Government is seeking legal advice on such a move.
“I think that would be a very silly move from the Scottish Government to go ahead and do that,” said Nash.