Thursday 6 April 2023

Red, white, and blue tinted spectacles


The last couple of months haven’t exactly been a good time for the SNP. Between the resignation of a popular First Minister and an election to succeed her in which the party comrades proceeded to take great comradely lumps out of each other, ‘torrid’ would be a better description. The resignation and subsequent arrest of the party’s Chief Executive (and husband of Nicola Sturgeon) seems to be, for the unionist side in the constitutional debate, a bit like the icing on the cake. None of us knows, as yet, exactly what led to the arrest, and we may have to wait some time to find out. But the image which appeared in some newspapers of the police turning up with spades to excavate the garden added to the strangeness of it all. I suppose that Peter Murrell has a touch of the looks of a potential Bond villain for those who want to see such things, but the idea that the man universally credited with professionalising the SNP and turning it into a formidable election machine is running an evil empire based on a chest of treasure buried under a suburban lawn doesn’t immediately strike me as particularly credible. It’s possible that the police have simply adopted an over-literal interpretation of the phrase common among politicians that ‘he knows where the bodies are buried’; stranger things have happened. An alternative explanation is that they received a tip-off from the improbably-named source, Lirpa McLoof, last Saturday and the receiving officer instigated the search warrant process, and issued the spades, without looking at the office calendar.

Time will tell. In the meantime, the unionists are making hay in what may turn out to be a brief period of political sunshine for them in Scotland. Based on the extremely dubious assumptions that the independence debate was all about the personality of the outgoing First Minister, a set of made-up grievances, and a hatred of all things English, they seem to expect the tide to turn, and support for both independence and the SNP (which are not entirely the same thing) to turn and leave them triumphant. At least, that’s what they claim. If they really believed it to be true, I can’t think of a better time for the Prime Minister of England to turn around and say ‘OK, then. You can have your second referendum in the autumn’. They also know that demographics is against them: in simple terms, new voters coming on to the register as they reach voting age are massively more pro-independence than those leaving the voting register at the other end of the age scale. A newish English PM would find it easier to reverse the position of his four predecessors; he has, after all, changed just about every other policy they proposed. If the disarray amongst independentistas were as great as they wish to believe, this is truly their golden opportunity, given that a second defeat probably would kill the issue for a generation whereas delay allows the demographics to grind their way forward with that inevitability which is characteristic of the human life span.

They won’t do it, of course. They know that it would be a bigger gamble than they want the rest of us to believe. And neither are they capable of addressing the underlying reasons for the growth – with all its peaks and troughs – in support for independence, not least because they are incapable of seeing beyond their own interpretation that it’s all about the Scots’ imaginary grievances. After all, what can Scots really have to complain about when they’re part of ‘the greatest and most successful union of countries ever known in the whole course of human history’ (© some unionist or other)? It’s possible – likely, even – that the cause of independence may be suffering a bit of a setback in the short term, and perhaps even through to the next general election. But the unionists’ belief that they have seen off the threat with the departure of Nicola Sturgeon looks like the sort of optimism which only those who don’t understand the problem could possibly feel.


Anonymous said...

Not sure about the demographics. Young people change their views with age, as I'm sure you appreciate. Many of my colleagues have long since abandoned the radicalism of their college years.
In addition, the increasing numbers of English-born people in Scotland will have an impact. We are almost at tipping point here in Wales. And before someone gives examples of English people who support independence, remember they constitute a tiny proportion of a demographic that is at best disinterested and frequently hostile.

John Dixon said...

"Young people change their views with age". I understand the point that you make, but it would be more accurate to say that Some young people change some of their views with age." The difference between the two is important - for all the surveys which suggest that there is an age at which more people are anti than pro, I have yet to see any hard evidence that that is based more on people changing their views than on a particular cohort ageing and passing through the system. When there is such a clear majority against independence in the 65+ age group and such a clear majority for independence in the under 25 age group, it would take an awful lot of people to change their opinion when they hit 45-50 to impact the probable long term outcome of the trend. Particularly when those who want them to change their opinion are struggling to understand why they feel as they do. I also take the point that there is a strong correlation between country of birth and support for independence, but it is far from being absolute. If opponents of independence want to rely on people born outside Scotland and some magical change of views in middle age to stop the advance of the independence cause, they've already lost.

Anonymous said...

I really hope you are correct. I just recall the old quote: "If you are not a communist when you are 20, you have no heart; if you are still a communist when you are 40, you have no head." The demographic change, lets face it, the mass movement of English people into Wales, has given us a mountain to climb. This is accelerating in Scotland, and, I think, will become increasingly apparent.