“There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen”
I’m not someone who lives by Vladimir Lenin’s terms, but they sound especially suited to our times. Shortly after the passage of the trade and security agreement concluded between the European Union and its first leaving member, the United Kingdom, the passage of the UK’s most extensive vaccine to end the pandemic, which happened only once this century, followed.
We live in times of historic importance. But we are on the cusp of a larger occurrence, as important as these two events might be. It may seem counterintuitive – perhaps hyperbolic – to argue that the elections to the Scottish Parliament would have the same meaning as the coronavirus and Brexit in four months, but they do.
They are actually more important, and could have more enduring effects than any of them. Before Scotland becomes independent, Thursday, May 6, will either be the last election to a devolved Scottish parliament, or it will be the last election to a devolved Scottish parliament where independence is a big issue at the ballot box.
This is the endgame – a decision on a political title. For Scotland’s unionists, the playing field seems inexorably bleak. This evaluation is not only focused on poll results, grim as they are (Yes led in 19 of the 23 polls conducted last year, the two in which No led had a one percent margin, and one of those polls excluded 16- and 17-year-olds).
It’s what is below that unionists can think most about. The No vote depended on those with decent employment, good prospects and some cash in the bank in the first referendum in 2014. That’s new now; according to all pollsters, the Yes vote has a large lead over the No vote in the social class classes of ABC1.
Historically, gender has played a role in voting for independence, with women being considered more averse to risk and tending to vote no. That’s over; women now lead, in some cases by double digits, among all the pollsters.
One of those “No” moments for unionists is the age profile of “look away” voters; “No” just results in the age group approaching retirement or older. “No, fewer than one in five under 25 will vote. If the referendum is held in 2024, for example, those six years old will be able to vote in the 2014 referendum. Current trends imply that almost all of them will vote yes.
This is not inevitable, however. I think, because of push factors rather than pull factors, the condition has emerged. In other words, some of those who may have previously voted No have moved to Yes because of negativity rather than positivity towards Scotland towards the United Kingdom.
Brexit? Boris? Covid? Probably all three, and probably several other factors. Bottom line. Most potential Yes voters are not sentimental nationalists, but they judge life in an independent Scotland pragmatically and scientifically as, on average, better than life in the United Kingdom.
Those forced away may be brought back. But for that to happen, a series of drastic reforms would have to be made by the British government and the governing Tories that they have so far proved reluctant or unable to make, or even both.
Frankly, I don’t know if they have it in them. Over the weekend I read an article on a prominent Conservative blog in which the author speculated that Scottish MPs could be made to like being in Westminster so much that independence could be stopped in its tracks. It was another “do these guys even have a clue? I have witnessed many of these moments.
There’s a distinction between nationalist leaders and unionist leaders. Nationalist leaders are more clinical than emotional, unlike their foot soldiers. They make choices and make policies that they might not like personally, and that they definitely don’t like their followers, but they know it will help them win (do you really think they want the Queen as head of state? Come on).
Unionist politicians, on the other hand, are as sentimental as foot soldiers. They spend their time moaning about ‘our precious Union’ and planning different plans to stop a referendum.