Referendum II is in the air. We’re all pent up with excitement, but – as with Brexit – we don’t have a date yet. It could happen very soon, and it could just as easily be years and years away. We can be fearful about all this or think reasonably about it.
Tempus fugit. Yes, it does. Time is marching on. It has been two years since the independence referendum; the famous ’14 we’ll all recount to our grand-wains, and already the country is reaching boiling point again over the issue of a rerun. Alex Salmond reminding us that it’s not for Westminster to decide when we go to the polls only adds to the growing sense of uncertainty around whether or not we’ll actually get another crack at the whip. People in the independence movement are worried, and, to be honest, in my darker moments, I too worry. Lately I have developed a recurring dream where I’m auld(er) and facing the reaper, and saying ruefully: “I’m sorry Scotland.” Will we really live to see Indy Ref mark two?
Aside from our irrational fears and nightmares, reason dictates that we will see another referendum, and before too long. The truth of the matter is that Scotland’s social and political life has reached an impasse – we are sitting on the point where either it happens and we gain our independence or we are forced to remain stuck where we are indefinitely. Only the former option is a possibility, because – and keeping with the slightly morbid tone with which I have begun – the majority of those who voted No last time round are dying off. Every cohort of the Scottish population under 65 voted Yes in the last referendum, and the polls conducted since have shown support for independence in these younger age groups to have grown. Unless the unionists can find a cure for aging fast, their game is up.
Since the 1970s the British establishment has acknowledged that the moment the Scottish National Party gained a majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats it will have lost Scotland to the union. Well, the SNP now have 56 of those 59 seats – that’s a 95% majority. In Holyrood, with its PR system, the SNP went from 44% of the popular vote in 2011 to 46.5% in the 2016 election (and still managed to lose a seat). In December 2013 membership of the SNP stood at a modest 25,000, but in the immediate aftermath of the September 2014 referendum it leapt to a whopping 75,000 – making it the third largest political party in the United Kingdom. In the two years since its membership has almost doubled, with the figure standing at about 121,000 party members.
Regardless of whether we manage to secure another independence referendum before the end of the Brexit negotiations (date to be decided) or not, that Scotland voted so differently to England and Wales underlines the simple truth that we are no longer “a union.” We may well be historically legally bound to one another, but the facts on the ground show quite clearly that we have grown apart, and there is no going back on this now. Our parliamentary system in Edinburgh is designed to give greater voice to minority opinion, and so the Tories and Scottish Labour have a good number of seats between them, but the sheer mathematics of the last election make it clear that these are indeed minority opinions. Scotland has changed, and irrevocably so.
Minority leaders the likes of Davidson and Dugdale of course will stamp their increasingly irrelevant feet and scream that the SNP and its constitutional debate is stopping the country from moving on. The problem with this nonsense is that the mood for independence in Scotland has long since transcended the National Party. Wholesale defection from Scottish Labour to the Yes Scotland campaign in the 2014 referendum, and the fact that most Yes voters were not SNP members illustrate that this mood is a movement that far outweighs any one political party. Yes, we are stuck, but not for the reasons the minority imagine.
We are stuck, and will remain stuck on the constitutional question, until we secure independence. Neither Westminster nor Holyrood can allow this impasse to become perpetual, and so – before too long – we will see one of three things: Westminster’s “approval” for another referendum, Scotland having one without that approval, or a simple declaration of independence. As London isn’t in the mood for more humiliation it will most likely grant Scotland’s wish before Brexit is done and dusted. Europe will help with this.