Potholes on the Path to Independence

“I voted for Scottish independence in 2014. However, I also felt uneasy about the lack of a coherent economic prospectus.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 07/09/2020 [Online] Available: Ewan Gurr: ‘There are still potholes on the path to independence’ [Accessed: 2020, Sep 08] 

Genuine question: Is it fair to set out your intent for a second referendum on Scottish independence in the middle of a global pandemic? Last week, during her Programme for Government address, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Before the end of this Parliament, we will publish a draft bill setting out proposed terms and the timing of an independence referendum as well as a proposed question.” Jubilant hollers and rousing applause emanated from the SNP benches on cue.

The appropriateness of the timing, however, has since been widely criticised mainly by the Conservatives. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman conducted an interview last Thursday in which she set out the strategy for the proposed forthcoming referendum. In response, opposition MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “Given the SNP are refusing to start the inquiry into nearly 2,000 lives lost in Scotland’s care homes, this seems extraordinarily insensitive from the Health Secretary.”

Insensitive it may be, and I have a great deal of sympathy for that view, but this is not an uncalculated tactical move. For the first time in history, six back-to-back polls show a sizeable lead for independence. Political commentator Michael Gray said: “Independence is becoming the settled will of the Scottish people, uniting supporters of all parties and none.” During her address last Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon added: “We must treat the Covid challenge not as a break on our ambitions but as an accelerant.”

Whilst current polling may be cause for some nationalist optimism, there are still potholes on the path to independence. It is no secret to regular readers that I voted for independence in 2014. However, I also saw considerable advantages to being part of the union and felt uneasy about the lack of a coherent economic prospectus offered by the Yes campaign. Even Ms Sturgeon’s former Health Secretary, Alex Neil, stated last week that her economic blueprint must be “completely rewritten”.

In January 2014, the former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, did not rule out the possibility of a currency union between England and Scotland but he was wholly pragmatic about the potential challenges. It always bemused me that no SNP strategist, after the 2014 vote, ever met with Mr Carney to seek his input in plugging the gaps in any new economic plan. Instead, they talked amongst themselves and developed the widely-criticised and since-forgotten Sustainable Growth Commission.

I am inclined to agree that the timing of Ms Sturgeon’s announcement last week was not sensitive but neither was it surprising. The less she talks about independence the more her approval ratings, and sympathy towards the notion, increase. Therefore, it was inevitable it would resurface but, whilst current polls report a surge in support, any future independence campaign hinges upon being realistic with the Scottish people about the currency and economy to avoid a repetition of past failures.