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Opinion

The desire for Scottish independence is not going away

The Supreme Court's ruling that Scotland is not an "oppressed colony", will only fuel the momentum for a new referendum, writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee

Scotland flag with hand giving peace sign

Image: David Peterson from Pixabay

Explaining to those outside Scotland the ongoing desire for a referendum on independence is not a straightforward task.

There was a referendum eight years ago and No won, albeit by a slim majority. Perhaps it was David Bowie’s request for Scotland to stay that tipped the balance. (It wasn’t.) In the intervening years, the debate has not stopped. It has intensified. The extremes are vicious about each other, and those towards the middle still have it always in mind.

The question that comes a lot is why. The argument put forward frequently by the Westminster government is that, at the time of the last referendum, it was claimed as a once-in-a-generation vote so it should be left alone. Aside from questions over how long a generation actually lasts, that’s a pretty flimsy counter. Eventually you will say – the clock has ticked round and it is time now. Following that thought through, the next question can be, why not actually RIGHT now?

Another argument put forward is that polls currently show there is an almost even split still in Scotland between for and against. Sir John Curtice is such a constant on particular news shows that he presumably has his own mug by now. But again, that is not a sustainable position. Polls can shift as campaigns kick in. They did the last time.

The strongest argument against it at present is that it is a diversion from the necessity of all functions facing down the cost of living crisis. The massive ruptures across society require focus and unity and not separation. That, again, isn’t washing in Scotland. 

And that is because many of the problems with governance and disastrous financial decision making can be laid at Westminster’s doors. No amount of muttering about Barnett consequentials or insistence on Better Together can extinguish perception, especially perception that has become reality. The absentee landlord hand of Boris Johnson played into the SNP’s narrative. Liz Truss’s financial incontinence was a Christmas present of untold bounty. Added into the mix is the B word. Scotland didn’t vote in favour of Brexit. And yet there the nation sits, dealing with its consequences.

Yesterday’s finding by the Supreme Court that Scotland couldn’t call a referendum without the say-so of the Westminster government changes nothing, except timeframe. In fact, it could harden resolve. The idea that a nation cannot come to a decision on self-determination unless the bigger nation it is tied to says it’s OK is not a great look.

Don’t assume that everybody who supports independence across Scotland is pro-SNP. While there are constituencies and councils where the SNP could stick a rosette on a hat stand and get it elected, there are others where supporters of other parties are to the fore. And they will point out that government departments for which the SNP have had complete responsibility over many years – particularly health and education – are in poor shape. But you only have to look at the chronic state of both those essential services after 12 years of coalition and Conservative rule to see that those problems are far from unique to Scotland. Also, just because the SNP may be the party in power to usher through independence, they may not be the party in power when it arrives. 

At core the question is this – should a nation be allowed to rule itself? There is growing feeling that a major change is coming, and not just in Scotland. The population shift in Northern Ireland to a Catholic majority means a border poll is becoming more of an inevitability. A move to a united Ireland is not a certainty, but momentum is building. And if it goes first, what then for Scotland, or even Wales? The familiar refrain that the UK is better as a union because it just is, and so say all of us, is beginning to blunt. It doesn’t feel like it can be sharpened again. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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