There are three points that your resident realist must make about The National’s predictably breathless report of the latest polling before the Sturgeon claque arrives littering the place with streamers and drowning out all pragmatism with their shrill fantasies and hymns to the anointed one. Firstly, noting Professor John Curtice’s comments regarding the fall in support for the Union, we must conclude that even if The National’s spin about support for independence being “at an all time high” is afforded credence, it would seem that none of the credit for this falls to Nicola Sturgeon, her government or her party. While it seems indisputable that, as Curtice says, “the Union has certainly become decidedly less popular north of the Border”, this is evidently due to factors external to Scotland’s own independence campaign ─ such as it is.
What must also be noted, however, is that this is the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) and not a ‘snapshot’ opinion poll. While the latter reflect short-term fluctuations in the local political weather ─ Sturgeon’s early handling of the Covid situation, for example ─ the former is designed to eliminate such transitory influences. For this reason, we can be confident that what the BSA shows is genuine change in attitudes to the current constitutional arrangements absent the distorting effect of fickle public opinion regarding any party or politician.
The inescapable conclusion which will nonetheless be assiduously avoided by Sturgeon/SNP loyalists, is that while support for independence has apparently increased relative to support for the Union, none of this change is accounted for by anything the SNP/Scottish Government has done under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership.
Accepting that there has been an increase in support for independence we are bound to ask how significant is the actual amount of increase. Or at least some of us are bound to ask this. As ever, many will not even trouble to consider the matter. Many (but fewer than previously?) will simply accept The National’s characterisation of the thing and break out the champagne while having a whip-round to buy an even higher pedestal on which to place their hero. The BSA now puts support for independence at 52%. This is self-evidently a good thing as far as Scotland’s cause is concerned. But how good?
The answer to that is, not very. The BSA merely confirms what is indicated by averaging the opinion polls over any period since Sturgeon became SNP leader, First Minister and de facto head of the independence movement. Allowing for the customary margin of error, support for independence has not changed at all since 2014. Yes has languished at and around 50% for eight years. The SNP has done nothing to advance Scotland’s cause in all of that time. And, it must be acknowledged, neither has anybody else.
While the Sturgeon/SNP loyalists work themselves into a lather of excitement over nothing of any consequence, more sober heads are asking why the hell support for independence isn’t at least ten points higher. By the SNP’s own account, the British state has been creating the ideal circumstances for the idea of restoring Scotland’s independence to flourish. By that same account, the behaviour of the British government over those eight years has been driving support for Yes. If that is true, then it falls to the SNP to explain the total absence of any evidence for this effect. If as they claim, the British state has been acting as a ‘recruiting sergeant’ for the Yes campaign, who or what is countering this by driving those imagined new recruits away before their conversion can register on the polls?
My final point is this: Assuming support for independence across the electorate is above 50%, what good does this do for the fight to restore Scotland’s independence? How might Scotland’s cause benefit from the fact that more than half the sovereign people of Scotland want an end to the accursed Union and a return to constitutional normality?
The depressing reality is that it does Scotland’s cause no good whatever. Absent a process by which to connect that majority support to a democratic event which stands as a formal exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination, it matters not a jot how large that majority is ─ nothing changes.
No such process exists. No such process is in prospect. No such process is being proposed. There are no plans for this process. No preparation has been made.
Sturgeon’s entire approach to the constitutional issue has been a massive failure. Perhaps as much as half the Yes movement persists in celebrating that failure as if it were some great triumph. What will it take to rouse them from their blinkered complacency?
Maybe if The National started asking some of the awkward questions and pointing out more of the true state of things? Would that help?
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