The fire is not out in the independence movement

7 mins read
Photo: Ross Brannigan

Driving home from the Scotland count centre in Falkirk on June 24, it felt like the beginning of a revolution.

Scotland had defied its neighbouring nations (except Northern Ireland) and voted emphatically to stay within the 28-country bloc of the European Union.

Our interests were clearly not on the same page, and that feeling of indignation at following orders from Westminster burned through the car radio.

Two years after the fateful independence referendum, and almost three months since the EU referendum, it appears that fire has abated, and sits smouldering in fiery steadfastness as the pillars of political society creak around it.

Or has it?

Long before the Brexit vote, the First Minister had made it clear a “material change” would certainly put another referendum on the table.

Brexit won, despite all accepted knowledge (in Scotland, at least), and that material change was realised.

Days later, there were protests and marches in Glasgow and Edinburgh calling on Scotland to remain inside the EU, and imploring the rest of Scotland to stand with the protesters in seeking a Scoxit from the UK.

I went to one, and the atmosphere was electric: the frustration and anger was palpable outside Holyrood; with Saltires flying and chants of “Fromage not Farage” thundering through the capital it was clear these people were not going to stand by and let the UK walk out easily.

Now, though, it all appears a little lacklustre.

Polls have been released in recent days showing support for independence at 48%; higher than 45% in 2014, but polls are not votes, and to secure a second referendum the SNP would likely prefer to be polling somewhere in the 55-60% bracket to feel comfortable.

Campaign for Scottish independence
Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Archive

There are, of course, corners of the Scottish political community where independence is brimming (one look on Bella Caledonia and its associated social media outlets will tell you that much).

However, for the society at large it appears a quiet acceptance has somehow set in.

Perhaps, in an ironic way, the fact the world did not end on June 24 was to the independence movement’s detriment.

Nothing has changed thus far, for many. Yes, we now have a circus Cabinet in Downing Street, and, yes, May’s agenda does not sound all that good for many Scots (some of whom see her as Thatcher’s final horcrux), but in the workings of our daily lives not much changed after Brexit.

Furthermore, there is a sense of lethargy about Scottish politics just now: The SNP still look the least-worst option out of a disintegrating Labour Party and a still-dodgy Tory party, and – if we were being honest – we cannot be bothered with another referendum right now, thanks.

Some (former Tory MSP Brian Monteith and Gerry Hassan) have been debating whether we have passed “peak Nat”.

It is true, though, that after nine years in office the SNP have still a lot of work to do – the recent GERS report was indicative of that.

Furthermore, some of the SNP’s core issues remain unsolved, in particular child poverty, and creating a robust and inclusive education system for all.

It has been widely commented that to have one in four children in East Ayrshire living in poverty is a dire assessment of the SNP’s success in power.

They have done much, but much still needs doing.

And so, independence – with all the above problems and more (big one: oil) looming over the country, is there an appetite for another shot at going alone?

As Alex Salmond expounds his vision for a second referendum by 2018, it all seems a little like a stuck record, like that feeling we all got when Osborne said “live within our means” and “long-term economic plan.”

But none of this means the issue will die.

As Alex Massie writes in The Spectator: Scottish independence has become a zombie policy.

The SNP are the Scottish National Party, and they have two aims which their members sign up for: (1) Independence, and (2) furthering the interests of Scotland.

The SNP will not forgo the first clause, because it is essential to their existence on the political battleground.

Though today, right now, there may not be resounding appetite for Scottish independence, there may well be by 2018, or when crunch time comes and Article 50 is triggered.

It may not even be as simple as that. Our access to our political community is through the media, and although independence has fallen from the news agenda, this does not mean it has dissipated completely.

Silent grumbling continues in schools, university, on the streets, in the office: there is a fire still there.

And, as we saw in 2014, mainstream media sources are no bastions of information for the independence movement, but has instead spread and formed its ideas on the internet and the smaller dialectic communities on social media.

That 48% may not be enough to guarantee a Yes vote, but it is a substantial number to work with.

Independence and SNP support has always come in peaks and troughs, and that wave of invincible optimism that followed the No vote in 2014, and the defiant bulwark that met the Brexit vote, is just the same sentiment that followed Winnie Ewing’s election in 1967.

Both dropped for decades, and now seem the unquestionable doctrine in Scottish politics.

And as nuclear weapons trundle through Stirling, the next wave could just be around the corner.

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“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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