Glasgow, Scotland – On January 3, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was interviewed by BBC presenter Andrew Marr.
Johnson had not lengthy agreed to a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, ending months of bitter wrangling following the UK’s official departure from the buying and selling bloc on January 31 final 12 months, and a COVID-wracked Britain was starting 2021 on a path that was first sanctioned by the British public within the 2016 referendum.
When Marr turned his attentions to Scotland, Johnson bristled.
“Lots of people are observing this from afar, together with in Scotland,” mentioned Marr, after questioning the prime minister on his dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Why do you say afar?” Johnson snapped again, as Marr tried to make clear his level. “[Scotland is] a part of our nation.”
The Conservative Get together chief’s agitation, whereas refined, was unmistakable.
Ruled by the pro-independence Scottish Nationwide Get together (SNP) on the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh since 2007, Scotland voted in opposition to changing into an unbiased nation in 2014, however, after decisively rejecting Brexit two years later (when voters from England and Wales endorsed the transfer), it now seems to be straining on the leash of the British state.
Eighteen opinion polls in a row, together with one revealed on January 14, have indicated that Scotland’s voting public is now able to embrace independence.
Observers have mentioned there seems to be little that Johnson can do to reverse the development and make the UK’s place exterior the EU, now a longtime reality, palatable to a sceptical Scottish voters.
“I can’t see how the Conservatives can hope to promote Brexit to folks in Scotland and, certainly, [they] are struggling to promote it throughout the UK,” James Mitchell, a professor on the College of Edinburgh’s Faculty of Social and Political Science, instructed Al Jazeera.
“If something, I’d anticipate opinion to shift more and more in opposition to Brexit and the Conservatives in Scotland. It has by no means taken a lot to persuade most Scots that the Conservatives are ‘anti-Scottish’ no matter what they do. The longer [they] are in workplace in London … assist for independence is more likely to harden.”
‘Extra to worry from remaining throughout the UK’
Whereas the UK as a complete voted by 52 % to 48 % to go away the EU in 2016, Scotland voted by a hefty 62 % to stay.
As such, the pro-EU SNP, led by the occasion’s staunch Europhile chief and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has lengthy backed the thought of an unbiased Scotland re-entering the European bloc as a sovereign nation-state to Scottish voters, who additionally persistently favour Sturgeon over Johnson in opinion polls.
Professional-independence campaigners, wounded after their 55 % to 45 % defeat in 2014, now sense that the momentum might undo the age-old Act of Union which united Scotland and England into Nice Britain in 1707.
“Proper now,” pro-independence blogger James Kelly of the Scot Goes Pop weblog instructed Al Jazeera, “the worry [of voting for independence] appears to have evaporated. Partly as a result of Nicola Sturgeon’s dealing with of the [coronavirus] pandemic has reassured voters that an unbiased Scotland could be very competently ruled, and partly as a result of Boris Johnson’s bungled response to the disaster has led to a way that we even have extra to worry from remaining inside the UK.”
Is Britain’s Conservative Get together authorities, which must allow the Scottish Parliament to carry a second independence ballot as a reserved matter to the UK, alive to the menace?
Sure, mentioned Mitchell, however “all of the indicators” are that the half is “unclear” on how one can proceed.
To this point, Johnson has shut down renewed calls for an additional referendum on Scottish independence.
“Refusing a referendum seems the one response, and that can change into tough to maintain if the SNP wins an general majority in [this May’s Scottish Parliament election] and the Conservatives lose floor,” mentioned Mitchell.
“Whereas a referendum won’t be held this 12 months, refusing to permit one … is more likely to be seen as absurd and solely gas calls for for a referendum.”
Alex Salmond scandal
It’s but unclear whether or not this 12 months’s Scottish Parliament election will go forward as deliberate within the present coronavirus local weather, at the same time as opinion polls persistently challenge that the SNP would win by a landslide.
Nevertheless, a more in-depth examination of Sturgeon’s occasion additionally reveals its personal troubles, together with these associated to Sturgeon herself, which might but derail the occasion’s major goal.
Scotland’s former SNP first minister, Alex Salmond, who led his occasion into the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, was acquitted by an Edinburgh courtroom of a number of intercourse abuse costs early final 12 months — however he has accused his one-time protegee, Sturgeon, of deceptive the Scottish Parliament, calling proof she gave to a parliamentary inquiry into the dealing with of assault claims made in opposition to him “unfaithful”.
This affair, which started when Salmond was charged with a number of sexual assaults in January 2019, has, in accordance with stories, cut up the SNP and irreparably broken the longstanding friendship between Salmond and Sturgeon, who denies his claims.
It has additionally been pounced upon by Scotland’s pro-Union opposition, which has been eager to take advantage of the matter for political acquire.
“Sturgeon is on her final legs as a pacesetter,” mentioned pro-Brexit and pro-Union campaigner, Iain McGill, from Scotland, who has stood a number of instances for the Conservative Get together in varied elections.
“I’m shocked that she has made it to 2021, and even … her predecessor and mentor Alex Salmond has mentioned that she is a liar,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
He argued that ought to one other Scottish independence referendum happen, Scots would stay loyal to the UK and rebuff the prospect of rejoining the EU as an unbiased state.
That mentioned, advocates in favour of Scottish sovereignty, now in post-Brexit campaigning mode, stay bullish.
“If a referendum befell tomorrow, there would most likely be a Sure vote, however after all when it will definitely does happen will probably be in a really completely different context,” mentioned Kelly.
“It’ll be a post-pandemic world, and the unionist events can have had an opportunity to regroup. So there are not any ensures, however we’re definitely entitled to be much more optimistic than at any level prior to now.”
Observe Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi