Gina Davidson: Could 2021 see a second indyref?

Traditionally it is the next week which will see much contemplation about the past year and predictions made for the one to come. Christmas Day is not generally the day for doing much more than consider how many pigs-in-blankets constitute too many. However this has been anything but a normal year so normal rules don't apply.

The constitutional debate is set to dominate the coming year
The constitutional debate is set to dominate the coming year

It’s been a hell of a year. Hellish in fact. In politics there has only been one story: the handling, or not as the case may be, of the pandemic. There is no space for competition here, the number of deaths across the UK, Scotland included are catastrophic and no-one should seek to play any political games of one-upmanship with the tragedies that have occurred.

However that is precisely what has happened, and as a result this central theme of 2020 has been woven with contrapuntal leitmotifs, and so we end the year with the threat of a second independence referendum once again hanging in the air as polls point to an SNP majority in next year’s Holyrood elections thanks in the main to the contrasting pandemic leadership qualities of Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson.

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Despite the Salmond inquiry still rumbling along, there is little evidence it has put any kind of a dent in the public popularity of, and confidence in, the First Minister. Despite the apparent civil war within the ranks of the SNP on matters of referendum timings, what kind of independence Scots may want, the conflict between women’s and transgender people’s rights, none of it appears to diminish public support. Even the mess around the awarding of exam grades in the summer has been forgotten as quickly as that over-stuffed feeling post-Christmas dinner when a turkey sandwich is on offer.

Nicola Sturgeon could well be found to have broken the ministerial code in her handling of the Alex Salmond allegations, her government too might be damned by the Holyrood inquiry, but there’s no reason to believe, should either occur, they won't be shaken off as easily as say, a finance minister with a penchant for inappropriate social messaging. Mackay who?

Without doubt the future of Scotland rests on what happens in May’s elections. The SNP has challengers from new independence parties standing on the regional lists, but even if they should take a few positions, that is no succour to those who would prefer constitutional politics to be off the agenda entirely. Labour is currently talking up more devolution, but public appetite is no longer whetted by such promises and uninspiring Scottish leadership does little to help. Douglas Ross may be back in Holyrood leading the Tories, but that will be too late to stop the referendum demands starting in earnest.

Of course Boris Johnson can continue to refuse to budge. As PM it’s entirely his prerogative not to grant a Section 30 Order, but with Covid, the Brexit fall out and a new US President to please, it is possible he could look at a refreshed SNP mandate and accept it is time for a new vote. After all, consistency has never been his watchword.

For unionists and nationalists alike, it would appear 2021 will mean it's time to brace for Referendum 2. This time it will undoubtedly be even more personal.

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