Scottish independence: Boris Johnson cannot continue to 'just say no' as support rises – Scotsman comment

A new poll by Ipsos Mori for STV, which found support for Scottish independence at a record 58 per cent, is a clear sign, for anyone who thought otherwise, that it is now a serious and realistic prospect.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 7:00 am
Boris Johnson cannot simply dismiss rising support for independence by saying the 2014 referendum was a 'once-in-a-generation' event (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson cannot simply dismiss rising support for independence by saying the 2014 referendum was a 'once-in-a-generation' event (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown may have been quite wrong when he said the survey showed “that independence has now become the settled will of the majority of people in Scotland” – people are allowed to change their minds and this is, after all, just a poll – but if support for leaving the UK truly is at this level and remains there, then it’s hard to see how independence could be denied.

However, it is also a mistake to think this is somehow game over for unionists and independence is inevitable.

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Previous polls have found a very different picture when voters are also asked about the practicalities – questions about the currency, a hard border with England and such like – and these would obviously be very much to the fore during the run-up to any second referendum.

And, given the economic turmoil caused by Covid and the trouble looming on the horizon when the Brexit transition period ends in December, some voters may conclude that now is not the right time to create further uncertainties and upheaval. Scotland’s share of the vast debts the UK Government is currently running up to pay for its furlough and jobs support schemes, for example, would make establishing firm financial foundations of a new nation an even more difficult task.

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Record high public support for Scottish independence in new poll

But unionists, chief among them Boris Johnson, need to make a more convincing case for staying if they are to win over hearts and minds and reverse the flow of people into the Yes camp.

The Ipsos Mori poll gives an insight into what are the main drivers of this trend and what should, therefore, be the focus for both campaigns.

It found the two most convincing arguments for independence, of those they tested, were that Scotland and England wanted “different political futures” and “a lack of trust in Westminster to act in Scotland’s interests”, while the two most-telling points for the ‘Remain’ camp were “an emotional appeal to what the different countries of the UK have in common” and “the risks of independence for Scotland’s economy and jobs”.

The poll also found 64 per cent of Scots believe the UK Government should allow a second independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority of seats in next year’s election.

So what seems to be the main response from Boris Johnson and co when faced with questions about independence – that there will be no second referendum because some SNP politicians said the 2014 referendum was a “once-in-a-generation” event – is clearly not a vote winner.

If Scotland does elect a pro-independence majority in May and Johnson continues to 'just say no', this would then present the SNP with a dangerous dilemma. Many supporters would urge the Scottish Government to hold an ‘indicative’ or ‘illegal’ – depending on your point of view – referendum. This would be a serious mistake and risk Catalonia-style confrontations and violence. It would be boycotted by unionists, creating a large but false majority for independence that would simply inflame tensions. Is Catalonia any closer to independence?

Instead, the SNP should avoid plunging the country into such chaos and use this denial of democracy to peacefully build further support for their cause with an eye on the 64 per cent who agree a second vote should be allowed. Johnson will not be Prime Minister forever and Labour leader Keir Starmer or, indeed, a Conservative leader in the style of David Cameron might take a different view.

Unionists did a reasonable job in 2014 of pointing out the risks of independence, but they need to better spell out the emotional case for staying together. And the tactic of repeatedly saying “no referendum” as support for independence continues to rise is not working, not democratic and a frankly ridiculous position to take.

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