It is two years since the inspiring Yes campaign for Scottish independence ended in defeat. Things have moved on, and how.
The SNP won all but two of the Scottish constituencies in the general election in 2015. Scots were again landed with a Tory government they did not vote for. In the Scottish parliament election in May this year the SNP was the top party in the constituency votes but failed to win an overall majority.
The Tories are now the official opposition in Holyrood — something unthinkable a few years ago. Labour is now the third party. The Corbyn effect did not register in Scotland at the time of that election. Not only that, but the rest of Britain voted to leave the EU when the majority of Scots voters did not.
With these developments seeming to confirm the differences between Scotland and the rest of Britain, one political question dominates — when will the next independence referendum be called? Nicola Sturgeon has said that there would need to be a real “material change” to the circumstances Scotland finds itself in for her to consider another referendum.
Many would say that there has been such a change with the Tories winning the UK election and Scotland voting to stay in Europe. Nicola played a blinder after the Brexit vote, demonstrating that she was the only political leader with a plan by being photographed with European political leaders and putting the case for Scotland to be given special status in the EU. Although she gained little but sympathy, her political stock soared.
However, there are a number of problems mounting for Sturgeon and the SNP. The patience of the 120,000 members of the party is being severely tested by lack of progress on a number of fronts. Austerity is still biting as cruelly as ever; the recent Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation report reminded everyone of the extent of persistent, debilitating poverty in Scotland, despite ten years of SNP governments. The oil industry is still suffering contraction and the UK’s apparent paralysis over Brexit is causing alarm.
Sturgeon recognises this and she has announced a “mass canvass” over independence to keep members busy. There is also talk of “smarter arguments” being used to support independence. But the weakness of the British economy, the election of the Tories and the Brexit vote may have convinced some in the SNP that they need to be cautious and wait longer for an opportune moment for Indyref2.
If they lose another referendum the issue might be dead for a generation. However, they risk losing the radical support they picked up two years ago if they delay too long. It’s a tough call.
The first referendum went 55 percent/45 percent against. Any new campaign will start from a higher level and people genuinely crave an alternative to the Tories and austerity. The SNP could easily win more support if it takes a leaf out of Corbyn’s book and tacks left. It is doubtful that this will happen. There is a growing fear that the conservatism of the SNP leadership will fatally damage the chances of a successful referendum.
It remains to be seen how Corbyn’s victory affects the Labour Party in Scotland. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale supported Owen Smith and has struggled to give direction to the depleted Labour forces.
The more radical wing of the independence movement has recently demonstrated its resilience. A march of 10,000 in Glasgow organised by “All under one Banner”, well attended rallies, a convention and a conference have taken place and show a reinvigorated campaign. The campaign needs to bite harder than the last one. Socialists must continue to be at the heart of the independence campaign, keeping up the pressure and calling for a date for Indyref2. The sooner the better!