We were told by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon at the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 that this was a “once in a generation” opportunity to settle the question of whether Scotland should be an independent nation. However, since the SNP’s landslide election victory earlier on this year it is becoming less clear whether the party will be sticking to this line. In fact, it looks like it’s been ditched already.
In recent months Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that “if the circumstances change” there may be a case for another independence referendum, arguing that the UK voting to leave the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people could represent a change in the circumstances.
So at her party conference, she went on the attack. It was no surprise to hear her disdain for the majority Tory government, for Westminster, and for David Cameron but perhaps most interesting was her stance towards the Labour Party. She warned her party against becoming “arrogant, lazy and complacent”, which in her assessment was the explanation for Labour’s rapid decline. For the Labour Party more broadly, however, she suggested that Corbyn was a weak leader who was “allowing Labour to change him” and not the other way round. Whilst she has made clear that she welcomes his anti-austerity standpoint, she argues that if Labour doesn’t present a “credible alternative to the Tories” then independence would be the only real alternative to successive Tory governments.
In many ways the cynical view would be say that the current arrangement suits the purposes of the SNP. A majority Conservative government whose Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon claimed in reference to the cabinet that “we’re all Eurosceptics now”; a Labour party still reeling from the election of the initial outsider Corbyn and at risk of not healing the divisions before the next election, losing once more; and 56 SNP MPs who see themselves as the real opposition to the government. It is hardly surprising if the SNP have increasing appeal within Scotland.
But is that enough? Over the weekend senior SNP sources revealed that a level of 60% support for Scottish independence over the period of a year could be the “trigger point” after which a referendum might be considered. A referendum this soon would be a huge risk for the party and they would have to be in no doubt that they would win this time round. The other question that would need to be asked is how Westminster would respond. They may take a leaf out of the Spanish government’s book and refuse to recognise another referendum in this “generation” as legitimate.
Let’s be clear, the SNP’s raison d’etre has always been to liberate Scotland from the tyranny of Westminster. In light of this, it would be unwise and a great underestimation of the SNP leadership to think that the SNP might not try again; it’s just a question of timing.