After #IndyRef in 2014, seismic shifts appear to be everyday stuff in Scotland…

Interesting piece in the Economist on the changing state of Scottish politics, which notes that “in the aftermath of the referendum on independence in 2014, seismic shifts are everyday stuff.”

It contains a pretty good historical briefing of the development of Scottish politics, not least how a small stream from the old Tory Unionist Party broke away to form the Scottish Party (which advocated Dominion states for Scotland inside the Commonwealth).

But the core observation for me is how the SNP bet too heavily on the EU as a banker for garnering votes for independence. In fact, the few apparent effects it has had have been pretty neutral…

The SNP’s support in Scotland’s central belt means it will still have the vast majority of seats after June 8th. But the shifts suggest that Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, has misjudged the effects of the EU referendum. Expecting it to boost support for independence, she has called for a second plebiscite on secession. In fact, the net effect of the EU vote has been nil (see chart).

Some Remainers who voted No to independence in 2014 would now vote Yes, seeing secession from Britain as a way back into the EU. But a similar number of Leavers who voted Yes in 2014 have switched to No, in order to protect Brexit. One Aberdeenshire fisherman says he voted for independence to get a better deal on EU fishing quotas, but now prefers Brexit, which he hopes will mean no quotas at all.

So what’s the driver behind the consolidation under the Scottish Conservatives? Euan McColm reckons it’s largely a secondary fallout from independence referendum.

In choosing to push a re-run of what was a very deeply unpopular referendum amongst those on the winning side (that No, in case you’d forgotten) in many parts of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has forced the Noes to consolidate:

Campaigners for both unionist parties and the SNP tell me that they detect, if not growing, strengthening opposition to Sturgeon. The more the First Minister talks up the prospect of a second referendum, the more she angers a substantial section of the electorate.

This is all anecdotal stuff, of course, but when even SNP campaigners highlight the issue, I’m inclined to think there may be something in it. Doubtless, as a young politician with a bright future ahead, Sturgeon’s dreams of leadership cast her as a unifying figure, but the reality of referendum politics makes that an impossibility.

Al of which is interesting in terms of the likelihood of a second Scottish Referendum, but the SNP will remain for the foreseeable future the major force in Scottish politics,

  • Fear Éireannach

    While they would claim independence of thought, I suspect some Scots have fallen to the endless (and often mindless) anti EU rhetoric coming out from some quarters in England and those who some equate being ruled from London with being in a grouping like the EU.

  • Obelisk

    What I think this means is that Scottish independence is not the shoe in I reflexively (and clearly naively) presumed it to be in the aftermath of the vote last year. It is going to take longer and be a lot more difficult.

    However, this does not change the fact that Scotland’s politics have now detached from the UK mainstream and ulsterised. The country is divided on constitutional rather than ideological issues, Nationalist vs Unionist. If you are a Unionist, that’s a defeat in itself. Scotland risks becoming, like the north of ireland, a place apart.

    But this does not diminish the fact that the status quo holds sway in Scotland at the moment, and the status quo seems to be absorbing Brexit. That’s an immense challenge for Scottish Nationalists. Are they doomed then to hope Brexit is a disaster so as to convince the undecided? That could be a very dangerous game.

  • Karl

    The UK is going to use arguments to justify an easy separation from the EU. The SNP are going to use the same arguments. The EU will slap the UK down. The UK will slpa the SNP down.
    Now to see what the voters think.
    The Who said it best. Dont get fooled again.

  • Brian Walker

    From Matt Singh of NumberCruncher, in the FT, 10 May

    https://www.ft.com/content/e86a4bae-34db-11e7-bce4-9023f8c0fd2e

    When local council areas are mapped against Westminster constituencies, the Scottish Conservatives won the most “first preference” votes — in Scottish local elections, voters number their candidates in preference order and can vote for as many as they want — in as many as 18 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies. The same analysis for the Scottish National party puts them ahead in 33 constituencies but senior MPs, including Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, the SNP’s deputy leader, would need to outperform their local government colleagues to hold on to their seats on June 8.

    From Prof John Curtice 23 April

    http://blog.whatscotlandthinks.org/2017/04/a-tory-revival-and-a-yet-more-polarised-scotland/

    polls do not suggest that there has been any further decline in support for independence. In fact, once the Don’t Knows are left to one side, the Panelbase poll actually puts Yes up a point to 45%, suggesting that the gradual slide in support for independence that Panelbase have charted in recent months may have come to a halt. Meanwhile, Survation reckon that support for independence stands at 47%, unchanged from their previous reading on that subject just a month ago.

    Equally, there is little sign that many voters have changed their views on the merits of holding a second independence referendum when the Brexit negotiations have concluded. According to Panelbase, nearly one in three (32%) think a second ballot should be held within the next year or two while the Brexit negotiations are taking place, and another 16% believe that one should be held about two years from now when the Brexit negotiations have concluded (that is, more or less following the precise timetable that Nicola Sturgeon has in mind). At 48% the combined tally of support for an early second ballot is only a couple of points adrift from the figure in Panelbase’s poll last month.

  • Fear Éireannach

    These numbers suggest that Scotland is divided. It wouldn’t take too much by way of a chaotic Brexit to make 47% into 51%.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks Brian. I’d seen Matt’s piece but not the Curtice one. You would expect both Robertson and Salmond to get their vote out well. The Tory surge in Scotland brings to mind outsized Scottish Tory figures of the past, like Nicholas Fairburn, who himself only just squeezed past the SNP to take his Perth seat by just 53 votes in October 1974.

    If the Tories are to take some of these seats, it will be on swings close to that which the SNP swept the whole way through Scotland (which in part took votes from Labour but also seems to have been done through voters who hadn’t been voting before).

  • Dónall

    Without Scotland, Wales and N Ireland Brexit would be pretty worthless as it would leave England isolated from the rest of Europe with no trading partners close by and surrounded by an homegenous Economic block from which they are excluded. I reckon that the UK will eventually seek re-entry to at least single market as I couldn’t imagine the powers that be in West Minister being able to tolerate such a powerful block on their doorstep from which they are totaly excluded. Who knows maybe by that time England and Wales may be the only part of UK intact.

  • mickfealty

    True, but the opposite is true too. Last time they fought a Referendum the No side was divided and in Labour’s case deeply conflicted. Next (whenever that is) the Tories will be by far the larger part of that campaign and they won’t been split on the matters).

  • Dónall

    Weirdly, the SNP won 425 seats in 2012 Council Elections (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_local_elections,_2012) whereas this time around they won 431 seats. Why then are the BBC reporting this as a loss of 7 seats? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/8201e79d-41c0-48f1-b15c-d7043ac30517/scotland-local-elections-2017)

  • 1729torus

    People can overestimate the change over a year, and underestimate the change over a decade.

    Scotland will continue to diversify from the UK over time as long as the SNP are in power, and countries like Brazil etc. continue to grow.

  • Mark Petticrew

    It’s worth stating that Scotland has a sort of demographic waiting game of its own. According to Ashcroft polling, a majority of all age groups under the age of 54 voted for independence in the 2014 referendum; those aged over 65 were found to be the most strident supporters of the union (73%), whereas the least unionist of Scots were those within the 25-34 age bracket (41%).

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    But on the positive side, the tory party is still mainly a toxic brand in Scotland. Ruth Davidson’s latest publicity omitted the term “Tory party” altogether. Ongoing tory policies such as the “rape clause”, the right wing turns May will take with regard to Brexit, and the negative effects of Brexit becoming ever clearer, will all work against the tories.

    Generally, all the tory gains in the local elections came from Labour or the Lib Dems, while the SNP increased its share of the vote again. Polarisation can only help the SNP, as the issue will not be clouded by undecided Labour voters – it will be ‘Scoxiteers’ against Unionists. The SNP are currently on ¾ of the vote to the tories ¼. This suggests that all the hard core unionist vote has already gone over to the tories. The remainder is to fight for.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Not dangerous in that if Brexit is a disaster, when we get independence we are not then tied to a tory EU disaster exit plan. We can have our own referendum on whether to re-join the EU, or join EFTA, (or become part of China or the Russian Federation – just for a laugh)!

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    But an isolated England is what the Brexiteers want. I say lets give it to them.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yes. Unionism is a dying creed – all over the UK.

  • Madra Uisce

    Plus the fact that Ruth had a total car crash of an interview on radio the other day
    https://ayerightradio.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/ruth-davidson-car-crash-interview-radio-five-live/

  • Kevin Breslin

    One Aberdeenshire fisherman says he voted for independence to get a better deal on EU fishing quotas, but now prefers Brexit, which he hopes will mean no quotas at all.

    Does anyone have the heart to tell them that Westminster helped to lobby for their introduction?
    https://fullfact.org/europe/eu-pinching-our-fish/

  • Fear Éireannach

    One man’s divided is another man’s broad church. And it is hard to see authoritative Scottish figures like Gordon Brown coming from the Tories to save the day.

  • Salmondnet

    Promises, promises.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Wouldn’t be funny if after all these complaints about federalists in Brussels, that the United Kingdom takes a leaf out of Belgium’s book and becomes a federal nation?

    The DUP’s and UUP/Tory allies attempts to use Brexit for “Ever Closer Union” will massively backfire as pretty much the rest of Northern Ireland realise the difficult Brexit decision has left Northern Ireland more of a place apart.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Does not matter if it is single party or multiparty.

    Look at Irish referendums … it’s not always the case that the argument with the most parties wins or loses … it’s the argument that is put to the people.

  • Fear Éireannach

    The UK will become feral, more like.

  • 1729torus

    The decline in the Unionist vote in Scotland will be more rapid than in NI in fact.

  • Obelisk

    Fingers crossed for you as always.

  • leoinlisbon

    Your optimism reminds me of Hillary and her supporters believing they were on the right side of history.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    They’ll wise up in the next two years, as May sells them down the river.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    There’s no way intransigent politicians like May will embrace federalism. It’s all or nothing for the likes of her – she fondly thinks “all” is in the bag, while the rest of us want to give her a large helping of ‘nothing’.

  • Obelisk

    Is it wrong to be continually aghast at the myopic short sightedness of the fishing industry? They want to leave the sea a desert and put themselves out of business with unrestricted trawling.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Myopic short-sightedness? They are probably all tories.

  • Mark Petticrew

    I think a key distinction between here and across the water is that support for the union in the north carries a more nationalistic character when compared to the unionism of their Scottish counterparts.

    In the aforementioned Ashcroft poll, for instance, only 27% of Scottish no voters said they did so due to a strong attachment to the UK, whereas a similar tally in a 2015 Edinburgh University study voted no because they felt British (30%).

    The last opinion polls done on Irish unity by LT and Ipsos MORI in September 2016 put the pro-union vote at 69% and 74% respectively, whilst unionism’s collective share of the vote in recent elections has been 47% (2016) and 44.8% (2017); this being, I would argue, demonstrative of the predominance of British nationalism within the pro-union coalition here, in contrast to its lesser prevalence amongst no-voting Scots.

  • ted hagan

    Difficult arithmetic when you consider up to 30-40pc of SNP supporters are estimated to have voted for Brexit.

  • Roger

    A chaotic Brexit will tie the Scots more closely to England. They are out of EU. England will be their only choice. The cost of leaving U.K. would be higher. Post Brexit UKNI would face a higher price in terms of its relationship with rUK if it were ceded to Ireland too.

  • Fear Éireannach

    A chaotic Brexit might well be followed by a stabilisation of some sort, a new trade agreement with the EU for instance. The chaotic period might further divide the UK, with the stabilised period providing the framework for the departure of the outer edge. Fear of leaving isn’t the strongest reason to keep a union together.

  • Shinner O’Toole

    The opposite is not also true. The younger age groups are far more keen on Scottish Independence for reasons that go far beyond economics. They are the future. There is no Tory surge per se, its simply a swapping of votes.

  • Shinner O’Toole

    Agree, most Scottish Unionists are most definately Scottish, as are Scottish Nationalists also very Scottish (if a little more patriotic). Irish Unionists are less Irish (according to themselves) and have invented an entirely Hybrid form of British nationalism.

  • Reader

    A lot of them seem to be very short sighted. Others might assume that if British fishing waters were reserved for the British fishing fleet there would be plenty of fish to go around.
    At least until the fleet expanded again.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But if No becomes a Tory-led campaign, that could be disastrous for it. Despite the small Tory surge, most Scots are fervently anti-Tory and likely to stay that way.

  • Fear Éireannach

    I hope the fish checkpoints work, to stop them going back and forth at will. More likely it will end as porous as the south Armagh border.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “The DUP’s and UUP/Tory allies attempts to use Brexit for “Ever Closer Union” will massively backfire as pretty much the rest of Northern Ireland realise the difficult Brexit decision has left Northern Ireland more of a place apart.”

    This is fuelled by an encoded indifference at Westminster which is inherent in the structural dynamic of the relationship between NI and “over the water”. While for the Dáil, the north is potentially as much a part of a potentially single Unit iIreland as Munster or Connaught for economic considerations, for Westminster the relationship is at best inherently similar to that with the Scottish Isles. Edwin Ardener’s “Remote areas: Some theoretical considerations” is an amusing read in this context.

    https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau2.1.023

  • john millar

    “While both boom and bust continue to redistribute wealth upwards (with the pretense of equality in upturns), dare we hold our breath for any change?”
    Human greed and population growth remain the drivers .Further pollution of the environment and extermination of more species awaits. Progress don`t you know

  • Salmondnet

    Naah. Tories don’t do tautology.

  • Madra Uisce

    The Tories it seems have a few unsavory characters in their ranks that will attract votes from a sizable section of Scottish society.
    https://wingsoverscotland.com/blue-is-the-new-orange/

  • Obelisk

    But then what hope do you have?

    The Tories have clearly decided their path back to relevance in Scotland lies in being the most solidly pro-Union party on the block. This is working because politics in Scotland has ‘ulsterised’, it is all about the constitutional question. The Tory consolidation, based on Unionism, will make them THE Unionist party.

    Yet we all agree the majority of Scots are to some degree anti-Tory…most of them ‘fervently’ in your own words. The SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Labour party share of the vote together shows that Scots are primarily a left of center people.

    So how long do you think it will take for the words Unionist and Tory to become synonymous in Scottish politics? Once that happens it will be all over bar the shouting, even if the shouting takes a few years.

  • Reader

    Fish roam. But it’s a statistical thing, and subspecies prefer different water conditions. If a sufficiently large area is not overfished, the stocks will recover, and neighbouring areas will also benefit.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/08/north-sea-cod-stocks-bounce-back-analysis-shows

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It is a worry. But there are lots of other scenarios too.

  • Obelisk

    Actually there are only two. Either Scotland will become independent (and let’s not forget, likely doom the union between the north of Ireland and England as a side effect) or it will not. You can posit Labour’s federalist flight of fancy as much as you want but at this point I don’t see it as a serious runner. It would just be independence delayed.

  • mickfealty

    One, it’s not going to happen if there is a Tory surge right now. I’d give a second one ten to twenty years in which time the Tory party will continue to put pressure on a Scottish government that hasn’t done much domestically since it gained its dominant parliamentary majority in 2011.

    Two, in that future time period lots of weird stuff may happen. In my view, the loss of EU membership is a major blow to separatism in Scotland (it’s not great news in NI either). The nested sovereignty model was potentially a great safety net for constitutional change. In its absence, the UK institutions will become more significant.

    Three, it may be (I’m guessing wildly here) that we see a reversal of recent trends in which power in Westminster maybe seen as an essential component of your domestic offering rather than a burden (as it certainly became for Labour). The lack of a major political ally for the SNP (the sheer hatred between them and Labour will take years to resolve) in London blunts their ability to shape outcomes there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Independence looks unlikely at the moment though. Sturgeon has to hope for events to shift further in her favour, Brexit hasn’t done it so far.

    Polling evidence also suggests Scotland leaving the Union won’t impact on the NI equation much if at all. But really it’s hard to measure now as still very hypothetical.

  • Obelisk

    It’s all hypothetical. Two points though, younger demographics favour independence in Scotland over the Union. You have to bet that they will change their minds as their age. This is the usual reaction from older generations towards a change favoured by younger generations that they themselves are opposed to, that as the young ‘get wiser’ by aging they’ll come around to the older generation’s point of view.

    That is a comfort blanket. It is far more likely the change resisted by the older generation will become increasingly likely as the older generation passes away. The Scottish Nationalists must be assumed to have a demographic advantage of their own until proven otherwise/

    As for Brexit not impacting polling, I’d wager that a lot of Scots are very pensive about the future after so much turmoil and simply don’t want to think too much further down the road. If Brexit is a calamity, the SNP might very well be able to swing a few more percent to the cause of independence.
    I don’t know about you by the way, but if I were a Unionist, if Scotland had 45% of the people consistently supporting independence I’d be extremely nervous at all times. All it would take would be one more moderate swing to end the Union.

    As for Norther Ireland’s position in a post Scotland United Kingdom…at that point what exactly would you be defending? It wouldn’t be a great and glorious United Kingdom of four nations, it would be so that we could continue to exist as a heavily isolated and maligned exclave of a Greater England for whom we would mean nothing. Any links the north has to the UK is primarily through Scotland after all.

    The game will be up for Northern Ireland if Scotland goes and at that point it really would be best for everyone just to accept the inevitable.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Well, time will tell, but I’m ore confident now than ever. Tories on 5 points as opposed to 24 points before election call.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Tory surge right now !!!!!!! 24 points to 5!!!!