In perhaps the most important time for national unity since the Second World War, the SNP are fuelling further divisions. The call for the second Scottish independence referendum comes as Britain faces leaving the European Union, with trade deals yet to be negotiated and Article 50 apparently being triggered in the last week of March. Nicola Sturgeon’s short-sighted independence referendum will not only inspire divisions across the UK, but also cause chaos throughout the Brexit negotiations themselves. Time and again the SNP have claimed to be the party of the people of Scotland, but since the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, they have shown no respect for the Scottish people, who voted to stay in the United Kingdom.
Make no mistake, calling a second independence referendum is fundamentally contradictory on the part of the SNP. The mandate given to the ‘No’ campaign after the decision to stay in the United Kingdom in 2014, meant that Scotland agreed to respect the results of any UK election or referendum. In the same way that it is ludicrous to contemplate a second UK-wide referendum of EU membership, the SNP do not respect the will of the people, regardless of whether across Britain or Scotland.
Not only did the SNP lose the first independence referendum by a considerable margin in 2014, with over 55% of the electorate voting in favour of remaining the United Kingdom, the latest polls suggest that the result of the second independence referendum would not be much different. Although many in favour of the union feared that Scottish opinion would shift towards independence after the vote to leave the EU in June, pollsters at What Scotland Says suggest that around 52% of Scots would support remaining in the United Kingdom, with this trend having been repeatedly polled since the Brexit vote. This calls into question the SNP’s manifesto pledge that no new independence referendum would be called ‘until public opinion changes’.
Nicola Sturgeon’s independence obsession is stoking tensions and heightening the prospect of a divided Britain, at a time where the country is about to head into some of the most important economic negotiations in its history. The SNP are playing politics with the future of the United Kingdom, and their record shows that is nothing new.
Alex Salmond once pledged that the SNP would never allow the burden of university tuition fees to be placed upon Scottish students. But people hailing this, albeit politically sound, policy miss the point. Scotland has the worst social mobility record, in regards to reaching higher education, in the UK, with less than 1 in 10 young people from the most disadvantaged areas beginning their degree before they reach the age of 20. This, alongside the fact that only 8.4% of disadvantaged students enrolled in Scotland’s most elite universities by the end of 2016, makes certain that the SNP need to focus less on their dangerous independence ambitions and care more about the young people of Scotland. Make no mistake, free university tuition was funded by the brutal cutting of student grants in Scotland, leaving the poorest students to graduate with around £5000 more debt than those from well-off households.
It is not only young people that are affected by this selfish call for a second Scottish referendum. The fact that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is worth 4 times more than that of the EU just screams delusional, on the part of the SNP. With the Scottish economy already in dire straits, a vote to leave the United Kingdom would surely not aid the Scottish children living in absolute poverty, which rose by 30,000 last year. With life expectancy already averaging at least 2 years lower than the rest of the UK, this failure of the Scottish economy would dismantle the NHS. This has been fuelled by the SNP’s mass saving targets demanded of Scottish hospitals, with the SNP simply copying the Tories’ pledge to protect the NHS budget and not reacting to the change in Scottish demographics and an aging population.
Even if the call for independence was truly in the name of remaining in the European Union, or at least the single market, Scotland would still be unable to successfully reapply. States such as Spain have repeatedly suggested they would veto any Scottish application to rejoin the EU after Brexit, due to the issues it would cause for themselves regarding Catalan independence calls. With Madrid banning the former Catalan President from holding public office, for calling a non-binding referendum, it does not seem likely that Madrid would fuel their own problems by allowing Scotland into the EU.
Needless to say, Westminster should not block a Scottish independence referendum, if Holyrood decided it wants one. But, this is not to say that this call for a second independence referendum is justified in the slightest. The SNP need to focus on protecting Scottish public services, Scottish education and the Scottish economy. Rather, they are fruitlessly chasing ambitions of an independent Scotland – one that, time and time again, the Scottish people have shown they do not want.