It’s quite remarkable. There has been a series of polls all of which show that there is consistent majority support in Scotland for independence. The most recent poll showed support to be at 55%. This is, to use the words of the BBC as the result of the 2014 referendum was announced, a decisive majority. Among younger age groups, support for independence is even higher, rising to a whopping 72% in the youngest age cohort in the most recent poll. Only the oldest group in the population still has a majority against independence. By any reckoning this means that the end of the UK is now just a matter of time.
Yet from England the response to the news that the end of the UK is in sight has been greeted with a resounding silence. It may be the most important news story in Scotland, up there with combatting the epidemic, but in England it appears that it has scarcely registered. To take but one example, in the Guardian newspaper there has been just one opinion column about the Scottish writing on the wall for the UK, penned by John Harris, and even that is largely about the fact that the English response to the end of the UK is UK UMeh. In his piece he remarks, “what seems remarkable is that the increasing possibility of an end of the union has yet to enter England’s political conversation, on left or right,” and speaks of a sense of ignorance and complacency that goes right to the very top. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/23/covid-19-crisis-breakup-uk-brexit-pandemic-scottish-independence
John at least recognises that Scotland is on the road to independence in large measure because what public opinion in Scotland believed to be a union, a partnership of nations, was traduced and wrecked by the Conservatives. He also recognises that those same Conservatives appear to have little or no recognition of their own role in the destruction of the UK. To the Tories, it’s all the fault of Thatessempee. Yet even John, who is normally an astute political observer, betrays his own ignorance of what is really going on in Scotland when he writes of the “emollient, open, progressive kind of Conservatism” he claims was practised by Ruth Davidson. That’ll be the Ruth Davidson who turned a blind eye to the sectarian bigotry that infests the Conservative party in Scotland and whose sole policy was saying no to another referendum. Scotland is already another country for the English political class, and it’s a country that they neither understand nor, for the most part, have any sympathy for.
The silence from England is highly significant for two reasons. Firstly it tells us that there is no willingness in England for any compromises which might keep Scotland a part of the UK. If public opinion, or rather the formers of public opinion, in England really cared about keeping Scotland a part of the UK then there would currently be anguished discussion about Scottish unhappiness and what steps could be taken in order to address it. Instead what little we’ve seen has been the Conservatives throwing blame on the SNP for supposedly stirring up division, yet even if that were true there has been not the slightest attempt to examine why it is that the claims of those vile separatists are so clearly falling on fertile soil. There has been none of that.
Labour’s offering of full fat federalism has even less public recognition in England than the name of the Scottish branch office’s leader, Ragnal Lastcomer. If England doesn’t want it, it’s not going to happen. England’s political and media establishment want Scotland to remain a part of the UK, but they want Scotland to remain on their own terms and not terms that may be agreeable to Scottish public opinion. There is nothing coming out of this Conservative government which is aimed at courting Scotland. Only attempts to steamroll Scotland into submission and to undermine the devolution settlement. Labour in Scotland talks a lot about federalism, but the party in England scarcely seems to notice.
Scotland isn’t going to get any substantial compromise from the British establishment which will change Scotland’s mind about the shape of the UK or the direction that the UK is taking. The Brexit ship has already sailed, and in December it will sail off the edge of the European world taking the last hopes of Scotland’s no voting remainers with it. This is the calm before the storm, and already there’s majority support for independence. The combination of the end of the EU transition period and the ending of economic support to ameliorate the effects of the referendum will convert that majority into the settled will of the people of Scotland.
Secondly the silence from England tells us that there is no great appetite in England to save the UK. We already know that a large and significant body of public opinion in England would prefer to get rid of Scotland, seeing us recalcitrant Caledonians as an ungrateful obstacle in the path of the One True Brexit and the Sunny Uplands. They have heard the constant refrain from British nationalists in Scotland, a siren song intended for Scottish consumption, that Scotland is a financial drain on the UK which is reliant on England’s taxpayers, and they believe it. The prevalent attitude appears to be that if Scotland wants to remain a part of the UK, that’s fine, but don’t expect England to do anything much to keep Scotland happy. It’s a take it or leave it deal, and if Scotland wants to leave it, there’s a large segment of English opinion which would not be overly bothered and would merely shrug its shoulders. There’s also a large segment of English public opinion, particularly within the Brexit supporting core base that Johnson’s Conservatives appeal to, that would be delighted to see the back of us.
The illusory sunlight uplands of Brexit and the idea that it will liberate the UK to bestride the global stage like the colossus that the British Empire once was has been described by the Irish commentator Fintal O’Toole as England’s dreaming. But the only reason that England can be dreaming is because it’s asleep. Not even the impending end of the UK seems to be enough to wake it up. The alarm clock sounded in the referendum of 2014, and it wasn’t enough to wake up England’s political classes. Now it’s too late. The Tories can have their precioussss union, or they can have their hard Brexit, but they can’t have both. They’ve chosen Brexit. That’s their loss, and Scotland’s opportunity.
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