On Saturday, I went on my first ever independence march with 2,000 other men, women and children in Bannockburn on what was the 708th anniversary of the historic battle. This place is hallowed ground to nationalists, as it is there the journey began. However, we no longer fight with swords and shields but, in the best instances of rigorous political exchange, with ideas and insights. Speakers included Alyn Smith MP, Kenny Macaskill MP and Tommy Sheridan and the appetite for another referendum was tangible.
This buoyancy was fuelled, in part, by the release of a document entitled: ‘Independence in the Modern World’ earlier this month, which proposes a referendum in 2023. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, alongside her Scottish Green ally Patrick Harvie, presented what is expected to be the first in a series of documents. In October, it will be a decade since Alex Salmond co-signed ‘The Edinburgh Agreement’ with former UK Prime Minister David Cameron to ratify the 2014 referendum and her base are agitated. However, questions remain.
Firstly, is there a mandate? I think the answer here is unequivocal. You would need to trawl back over a decade to the 2010 UK General Election for the last time Scotland’s party of government failed to win an election. On that occasion in 2010, they came third. However, the SNP have since decisively won a majority share of the vote in 11 consecutive elections. It is hard, therefore, to argue against the democratic legitimacy afforded consistently to them by the same electorate they would seek to consult concerning their constitutional view of Scotland.
Secondly, is there an appetite? Far from the enthusiastic frontlines of any independence march, there is little evidence in the face of rising inflation and war in Ukraine. Even if there was, of 25 polls conducted in the last year, only three showed majority support. On Saturday in Bannockburn, Tommy Sheridan said: “Last time, we started at 23 per cent support. This time, we start at 50.” Firstly, he is wrong, the last poll was 45% but he also downplays the segment of Scots for whom answers are important and, in whose confidence, independence will be won.
Thirdly, is there a route? I consider it unlikely a vote will be held in 2023. The uncomfortable truth is the capacity to hold a legally binding and internationally recognised referendum is reserved to Westminster. Therefore, if Ms Sturgeon’s commitment to a 2023 referendum is to be realised in the face of an unyielding Westminster, she will need to honest about the fact there will not a referendum on Scottish independence in 2023 but an advisory one on independence, which would potentially be boycotted by unionists.
Fourthly, and finally, is there a prospectus? The new document highlights notable differences to the case of 2014. In place of an emphasis upon oil and gas, the focus here is upon a net zero and renewable energy agenda. In place of a position upon international trade, there is a commitment to join the European Union. These positions could serve to alienate the 110,000 Oil and Gas employees in Scotland and 366,000 SNP voters who voted to leave the EU in 2016. At best. there are hints of a prospectus, but neither a calculated nor a coherent one.
I meet many who are ‘indy curious’ – sympathetic to independence but lack confidence in the Scottish Government to successfully deliver it. In the Sunday Times, Alex Bell, a former speech writer and head of policy for Alex Salmond, wrote: “The people who wrote this latest document have been comfortable on the public purse for eight years [and] yet have so little to show for it.” Truthfully, whether there is a mandate, a route to or a prospectus for independence matters not if there is no appetite. Is Scotland ready for independence? Only time will tell.