Elusive Numbers

BY EFFIE DEANS

What’s the real level of support for Scottish independence? We don’t know. What’s the real level of support for Scottish separation? This might be a different number, but we still don’t know it. What’s the real level of support for Scotland leaving the UK rather than remaining in the UK? This would probably be a different number again. But we have no way of knowing exactly what it is. All we can do is estimate.

The only time we knew the number was when we had a referendum in 2014. Since then, we have had various elections and perhaps hundreds of opinion polls, but none of these tell us what the real level of support for independence is.

Some people vote for the SNP though they prefer the UK to remain intact. I find this rather odd, or at least risky. We had the referendum in 2014 because the SNP won an election in 2011. The same might happen again one day if the SNP keeps winning elections. On the other hand, continually threatening independence is about the best strategy you could come up with if you wanted the British Government to keep increasing its funding for Scotland.

If the SNP were seeking a way to to maximise what Scotland got from the UK while never actually leaving, their strategy would be exactly what it is at present.

I have never been one of those who thinks Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t actually want independence. She does. So do the vast majority of SNP voters. But what they want involves a contradiction. They want those aspects of being in the UK, which they like, to continue, but for us to be politically independent. M. Barnier would call it cakeism.

Scotland has a standard of living and a sense of security because we know that we can rely on the welfare state, the rule of law and the various institutions that are familiar, reliable and dependable. At a certain age we will get a state pension. If a bank goes bust, we won’t lose all our savings, but will get at least some of it back from the Government. If there is another lockdown because of Omicron we will probably still get furlough.

Every single independence supporter believes that all of the familiar things we have from living in the UK including spending pounds would continue after independence. Some of them no doubt would or Scotland would get something similar.

But if you go abroad, you quickly realise that nearly everything that makes, for instance, France what it is, the rules and regulations, the standard of living, the healthcare, is due to the French state. Obviously the same goes for the UK.

A newly independent Scotland would be able to replicate much of what we had before, but it would not be the same, because we would be living in a new state. Much of what we took for granted previously about life including our standard of living and our healthcare would now suddenly depend on this new independent Scotland, which wouldn’t at all be the same as our familiar Scotland which has been part of the UK for centuries.

If there were a new Covid crisis, there would be no furlough from the Treasury. If my bank went bust and the Scottish Government lacked the funds to bail it out, I would lose all my money.

The NHS would be no more. The N in National Health service refers to the whole of the UK even if the parts of the NHS have always been devolved. It is for this reason that we can get free treatment anywhere. The same goes for every other part of the welfare state. We would be leaving the British welfare state and we would have to replicate it in Scotland. It wouldn’t be what we have now. It would be something quite new. It might be better, or it might be worse, but we would no longer be able to depend on what we depend on today. It would be like getting a new insurance provider, that has never provided cover before.

There is also no guarantee that I have access to someone else’s health or welfare system when I move abroad or indeed if I choose to create a new state that becomes abroad. The former UK might choose to offer us reciprocal treatment and benefits, but that would be up to them.

It’s easy to be optimistic about Scottish independence when we all know that there won’t be a vote on it any time soon and when the arguments for and against have not even been tested by debate. But I think rather a lot of independence supporters want it in theory, but not quite in practice if it might involve a hit to their standard of living.

So, what is the real level of support for independence? It depends on what question you ask. None of us have any idea what question would be used if there were ever to be a second referendum. Opinion pollsters seem quite sure that it would be the same as the last one. But the politics are quite different now. The British Government doesn’t want to give one at all and has said No at least twice. For the Scottish Government to get its referendum it would have to compromise. The question is one obvious place to begin.

So, there might be no Yes movement. It could instead be a Leave movement. It could even have to be a separatist movement.

We have no idea when there might be a repeat of 2014. The SNP’s best chance is to end up in some sort of coalition with Labour after the next election. But winning a referendum with Labour in power would be much harder than winning one with the wicked Tories in power. It would take away the SNP’s main argument and reason for voting for independence in the first place, i.e., to avoid being ruled by Tories.

So, what is the significance of going from a six point No lead last week to a 9 point Yes lead this? Nothing much.

Did anything happen this week to suggest that public opinion on Scottish independence has changed radically. Did we for instance discover a new gold mine? Did we invent a teletrasnsporter which means we no longer need to rely on building ferries? Did Scotland win the world cup?

Such a large swing might just about happen in a General Election campaign if we discovered that Boris Johnson had been caught in flagrante with a cockerel after eating his children. In Scotland we would not expect such a swing even if we discovered that Nicola Sturgeon was having a lesbian affair with Alex Salmond who was in a fact a woman dressed up as man and that the whole scandal last year was an attempt to cover it up. Even then the average SNP voter would forgive them the deception pointing out that at least in Scotland we didn’t sleep with cockerels nor did we eat our children.

No one in Scotland has the least idea what Scottish independence would involve, because the last time we had a campaign about it was in 2014. It’s only when public opinion is tested by debate and by going into a ballot box to mark a cross that people begin to think seriously about the issues. At the moment we don’t even know the question, let alone the answer, which is why opinions fluctuate like leaves blowing in a gale.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.