Unionists got very excited last week about a YouGov poll for the Times which showed that not only had the post-Brexit bump in support for independence been undone, but that it was now (fractionally) below the level recorded in the indyref for the first time since the September 2014 vote.
(It was a slightly curious poll, with a massively disproportionate number – over 27% – of its respondents born outside Scotland, mostly from the rest of the UK, but it was weighted so that shouldn’t have been much of a factor. It also found majority support for a second EU referendum, despite a 30-point margin for Remain, but opposition to a second indyref despite the margin for the Union being just 12 points.)
Nevertheless, given that nothing’s happened since the end of June that ought to have damaged the case for Yes (the oil price is currently at a 12-month high, for example, almost twice what it was in January), the 10% drop in support is a troubling one for the independence movement.
But it shouldn’t be. Because what the poll shows is that there is currently a majority of people in Scotland prepared to vote for independence.
Now, just bear with us for a moment. Obviously that seems counter-intuitive, because only 44% say they’d vote for it tomorrow. But among the 56% who say they wouldn’t are a substantial number who as recently as 2014 actually did vote for independence.
And crucially, when they did that they were voting for a vision of independence that was expressly premised on Scotland remaining in the EU.
So we know that within the last two years, a majority of Scots have been willing to vote for independence, just (usually) not all at once. But polls have consistently found that around 12% of people have switched in each direction since the indyref, leaving the final total unchanged.
The reason given in the majority of cases is the Brexit vote – a substantial number of Unionist Remain voters are horrified at the prospect of leaving the EU and willing to back independence to keep Scotland in, but they’ve been balanced by Yes Leavers feeling they’d rather throw in their lot with the UK if it gets them out of Europe.
Readers will recall that this site is something very close to agnostic on the subject of the EU. There are positives and negatives to being part of the trading bloc. But the position of the Yes Leavers who’ve switched to No is a pretty bewildering one. In an interview in this month’s issue of iScot magazine, the strikingly handsome editor of an exceptionally popular pro-independence website (cough) said:
“I have to try quite hard to not get snappy at Yes Leavers, not because I disrespect their views on the EU – I’m almost 50/50 on it – but because it’s such an idiotic assessment of priorities.
The EU has very little (negative) effect on the day-to-day lives of most people, whereas Tory rule from Westminster is a very real rolling 24-7 catastrophe that impacts on nearly everyone nearly all the time, and we need to do something about that right now before the country’s left in completely irretrievable ruin.”
But if we’ve learned anything from the Brexit vote and then the election of Donald Trump as US President (and it’s not at all clear that we have), it’s that it’s no good just yelling that at people and telling them they’re stupid or racist if they don’t agree with you. So how do we solve the problem?
We’re increasingly coming to the view that the answer is for the SNP to commit to a second EU referendum in the event of Scotland becoming independent.
Now, we can hear a lot of people sighing already. FOUR national referendums in the space of about five years (we’re not including the AV one, which nobody cared about) would be an awful lot of democracy and an awful lot of campaigning.
But we can see no other way to cut the Gordian knot of the electorate coming to decisions that contradict each other. Scots currently want to stay in both the UK and the EU, and that simply isn’t possible, no matter how many semantic contortions Unionists try to hide behind about “Scotland” not existing in the context of the EUref.
(There is of course a rather sour argument that if Scots were dumb enough to choose to effectively hand control of their affairs back to England then they’ve got no business whining when England does stuff they hate – indeed that basically IS the argument of the Unionist parties in Scotland, when you boil it down – but we wouldn’t like to be the people making that argument.)
It’s not an easy solution either. The timing and the nature of the question/s would be open to debate, and the politics would be delicate. The EU might not react kindly, for example, to an independent Scotland negotiating its continued membership while it was under the cloud of another referendum.
But mostly the problems are soluble. Everyone knows the arguments backwards by now, so the campaigns could be short. A second indyref in the spring of 2019 could, if successful, be swiftly followed by a Scottish EUref in the autumn.
(You can’t just have a single one with two questions, because if you get a No/Remain result you’re right back where you started.)
Referendums aren’t expensive – £15.8m is loose change in government expenditure – and going to the polling booth again isn’t too onerous a chore to ask of voters when it’s to settle the constitutional debate once and for all this time. (Because however the results went, there really wouldn’t be any legitimate grounds for another referendum on either subject for the imaginable future.)
It’s not credible (and not politically sustainable in the long term) to let the fundamental contradiction created by the indyref and EUref simply go unaddressed. But it’s also no good mocking Unionists for being terrified of a second indyref – which they are – if you’re not prepared to apply the same principle to Remainers.
Pro-Europeans could offer the Scottish EUref in confidence of winning, with every party in the Scottish Parliament on their side. Leavers, on the other hand, could accept it on the basis that 38% is a strong starting point to have a fighting chance. And everyone would have the advantage by 2019 of having seen how the UK’s Brexit negotiations had turned out.
The bottom line is that the Venn diagram of support for independence and support for the EU is a horrible tangled mess, and there’s only one acceptable democratic way of sorting it out. If we don’t, then we’re all going to be condemned to arguing bitterly about the constitution for the rest of our lives, something we’re pretty sure nobody – Unionist or nationalist, Remainer or Leaver – really wants.
– if Scotland votes No in a second indyref, knowing for certain in advance that doing so means leaving the EU, there are no grounds for complaint. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine a bigger material change than Brexit. If we can’t win it then, we’re never going to win it.
– if it votes for independence, and then votes to stay in the EU, the Leavers will have been given a fair chance to get their way and will have lost. They’ll be free to keep campaigning, of course, but from so far on the fringes that the debate will be to all intents and purposes over. (Who would be their party, for a start?)
– and if Scotland votes Yes then Leave, then that too will be the unarguable will of the people. By then it’ll be far clearer what Leave means than it was in the UK’s EU referendum, and if voters choose it anyway then so be it.
It’s time for everyone to back their horses and get the race over with.