When it comes to Scottish politics, the issue of independence always manages to pop up. The Scottish people are now being urged to give their views on the Holyrood government’s consultation for a draft independence bill.
Not surprisingly, the draft bill, similar to that in 2014, has already provoked a negative reaction from the pro-Unionist parties. The Scottish Conservatives have branded it "desperate" whilst Scottish Labour said the SNP’s plan was "reckless".
The SNP’s position is clear that the issue "needs to stay on the table" as stated by the Constitution Secretary Derek Mackay. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon coined this phrase after the UK’s Leave vote as a way of ensuring the issue remains at the back of voters’ minds. The party’s hope is that more Scots will support separation should a Scottish deal not be achieved.
However, a series of polls in the last six months have shown voters in Scotland are not yet ready to take this leap. A poll for the Herald newspaper found that 61.5% are against holding a fresh vote in 2017, compared to 38.5% who support it. Excluding "don’t knows", support for an independent Scotland remains identical to the result in 2014 which stood at 45.5%. The pollsters got it so wrong last year which suggests these figures could be misleading, but the reality is that the First Minister will not want to call another referendum until she sees an improvement in these numbers.
The closing months of 2016 were busy for Ms Sturgeon, playing her new role as Scotland’s EU ambassador, visiting diplomats in the corridors of Brussels and publishing new proposals to remain in the single market. It’s a role she will continue to have in 2017, as she understands that being seen to deliver is better than doing nothing. As a nationalist, she supports Scotland breaking away from the UK, but knows that now is not the time. Should the UK government be forced into a 'hard Brexit', Ms Sturgeon will look to turn to the Scottish people and say, I did my best but now it’s time to take matters into our own hands, namely to bring forward IndyRef2.
The Act of Union 1707 is safe for now because no one knows what will come of the Brexit negotiations. For the moment, the status quo remains intact but perhaps not for much longer. As the most devolved parliament, with control over health and education spending to income tax rates, Scotland is now shaping its own future.
The biggest threat to Scotland’s future will be the UK’s departure from the EU. Scotland might not even be able to afford to be independent, and Nicola Sturgeon almost certainly knows it. Scotland’s economy has moved since 2014's independence referendum. The oil price has changed, the exposure of major Scottish banks has become even worse as we’ve seen with the RBS share price recently. Scotland's economy has grown much slower than the rest of the UK as a whole since the last recession - The Guardian notes, with just a 4% GDP growth compared to the UK economy as a whole which grew 23% in cash terms.
This is not the picture of a country ready to go it alone, even with the EU membership it already enjoys. Should Scotland find itself tackling rising poverty and inequality, divorce from the rest of the United Kingdom might not be the best alternative. Whatever Scotland decides, and whichever side you support, the signs currently are that independence remains a once in a generation opportunity.
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