Why SNP should worry that Scottish independence isn’t further ahead in polls – Kenny MacAskill

The poll putting support for Scottish independence marginally in the lead raises issues for all parties, affords no obvious solutions for any of them and simply adds to the political uncertainty of the times we live in, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Arguably, it’s been a long time coming, given the debacle playing out at Westminster and though it’s only one poll it fits with other anecdotal evidence.

For the SNP, there must be concern at the narrowness of the lead. I’d be more concerned, if I were them, with the closeness of the poll rather than its coverage. Given the pound crashing, investment drying up and catastrophe threatening, it must be a worry about just what it might take to shift some people. Of course, just as there are those who’ll vote for independence come what may, so there’s others who’ll side with the Union until their dying breath.

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It’s early days and further polls will be needed but so is a campaign for independence. The poll would tend to indicate that either hard-core unionism is greater than many thought or, more likely, that’s it’s not enough to just hope it’ll implode. ‘Just about managing’ at Holyrood is insufficient, a radical alternative which appeals needs promoted for Yes to succeed.

Could Boris Johnson's premiership be the spark that lights the independence fuse? Picture: AP

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The UK Cabinet’s now comprised of an “A list” of characters many in Scotland literally despise and who even moderate Tories must be holding their nose at. It’s the nightmare ticket that some nationalists have dreamed of, yet things remain finely balanced. It confirms what many, including myself, have long believed, which is that the worse it gets for Britain, then the worse it gets for the independence cause. Support for the latter comes through hope and optimism, it’s not driven by fear and despair.

Nicola Sturgeon’s lack of a strategy, never mind a campaign, will see her face increased demands for an early referendum from within. It’s something which she can’t deliver and she’s wholly unprepared for anyway, despite her rhetoric. It’s not just failing to address the big issues but the minor details. The need to rush through legislation on prisoner voting in the Shetland by-election was evidence of a failure to clear the decks. Ironically, her get-out-of-jail card will be Boris Johnson. His refusal to countenance a second poll buys her time but also risks further damaging the Tory ticket in Scotland, no wonder growing numbers want to jettison it. Rejecting a second referendum might have played well before but it can’t play forever.

Moreover, it was one thing for it to be said by Ruth Davidson, it’s quite another by him or his new minion in the Scottish Office. The working-class Scottish Tory brand had resonance even if it was mostly fallacious but English colonial diktat will alienate. Scots can be fickle that way, one of their own can say it but not a “bool in the mooth” Tory Toff. Post-2014 gains for the Tories are in danger of disappearing like snow off a dyke, when the spotlight shines on Johnson.

Tory HQ strategy on Scotland seems to be to copy Spain in Catalonia and just refuse to engage. At least, there’s no suggestion of throwing nationalist politicians into jail but it can’t last and won’t work. Drill down and poll figures show that an even bigger majority expect a second referendum to be held relatively soon and seem relaxed about it. The age profile, both on the constitution and on party allegiance, must also be frightening for the Tories.

Anger at and opposition to a second referendum is diminishing. Ramping up the rhetoric of refusal plays to a shrinking audience and will alienate many others. Just when the SNP’s coming under pressure on its record in Holyrood, it’s a godsend for them.

Labour also faces a dilemma with 40 per cent of their voters backing Yes. They’ve already haemorrhaged huge swathes of their former support with no sign of their intransigence lessening north of the border. There’s at least an argument that the Tories are playing to their core support but with Labour they are alienating it. It’s astonishing political self-harm, where they’re simply getting caught in the crossfire between the big guns of the SNP and Tories. Why they put themselves there when even their London leadership is suggesting that it’s up to the Scottish people; it’s incredulous.

The Lib Dems are simply sounding as shrill in their rejection of another independence poll, as they are in the squeals of their new leader for another Brexit one. It not only looks hypocritical, it is.

And so, the neverendum continues with no likelihood of it happening anytime soon. Not quite the irresistible force against the immovable object but certainly a position where the intransigence of one maintains support for the other. Groundhog Day, I fear.