In 2015 David Cameron said voting for Labour and Ed Miliband was a vote for chaos and a government ad hoc to the Scottish National Party. In 2017 the country faces a very real prospect on no discernible link to the European Union and the ever growing likelihood of the break-up of the United Kingdom. The name United Kingdom has never sounded so unlikely as Theresa May chases an extreme Brexit strategy and Nicola Sturgeon fulfills her pledge on a Scottish referendum.
If a referendum takes place it will not be until Autumn 2018 or Spring 2019 according to Mrs Sturgeon. In this time Theresa May will be negotiating her way out of the UK's biggest market and putting immigration above everything else, even at the risk of pushing the UK on to World Trade Organisation rules. As a direct result of this and every major decision made since May 2015, the chances of Scotland voting for independence have never been higher.
Odds Have Changed
The reasons to vote for independence have changed, arguably for the better, following the EU referendum in 2016. While the reasons to vote against it have remained the same and many of the reasons given in 2014 are stale or have not been fulfilled. The phrase ‘fool me once’ springs to mind. Many of the reasons that a ‘stronger together’ campaign might give voters are undermined by Brexit and the uncertainties that England faces.
The campaigning style of elections has also changed dramatically since 2014. Although it is just 3 years since the last referendum, in Brexit and in the Donald Trump votes, we have seen elections swung not by policy or evidenced arguments but on emotional, nationalist arguments. The yes campaign would have an argument that fulfills both of those criteria with a vote for an independent country and to also regain a European identity which close to 70% of the country voted to retain last year.
During the last independence referendum David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg made a last ditch promise to Scottish voters. It made front page news in Scotland where the Daily Record labelled it ‘the vow’ with promises such as more devolved powers, to spend more on the NHS in Scotland if Scottish voters demand it and a commitment to continuing the Barnett formula for Scotland’s budget. While some of these promises have been kept to a certain extent, only 9% of Scots believe 'the vow' has been kept and so Scottish voters will look on any promises made during the next referendum and wonder why British leaders should be listened to for a second time.
New Look Labour’s Role
Another change since 2014 which plays in Nicola Sturgeon’s favour is the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the corresponding fate of the Labour party. It is realistic to think that Scottish voters face 10, or potentially more, years of Conservative government in Westminster. Historically Conservatives have been highly disliked by Scottish voters having viewed Tory leaders to consistently forget about issues north of the border. The fact Labour has seemingly no chance of displacing the Conservatives is a card that Nicola Sturgeon already mentioned in the aftermath to her speech yesterday.
In 2014 it was undoubted that Labour’s, at that time, good likelihood of forming at least part of the next government had an impact in the last Scottish referendum. Ed Miliband, in the aftermath of the referendum went as far as saying: “This Labour party is determined to show over the coming years that we can be the vehicle for your hopes, your dreams, your aspirations for a better life for you, a better life for Scotland and a better life for the whole of the United Kingdom.” At the time this was reasonably believable as Labour enjoyed a slight poll lead but Jeremy Corbyn does not have the ability to say this believably with the plight of Labour currently. Therefore it will be difficult for Labour to play as important role in saving the union.
The final reason that Nicola Sturgeon can be much more confident of a yes vote this time around, is the fact that there is little possibility of Labour and Conservatives campaigning together. This will mean that mixed messages will be sent, no consistent slogans or promises will be made and as witnessed during the EU referendum Jeremy Corbyn is not the most adept at campaigning and sticking to a message. A disunited Yes message will also exemplify a disunited Westminster with no plan or future for Scotland, especially with Brexit negotiations distracting and complicating campaigning.
An Uncertain Future
Although a very uncertain future faces Scotland and the United Kingdom, regardless of the referendum result, the circumstances look bright for the yes campaign. With Labour’s woes, parties wary of campaigning together and a hard, uncompromising Brexit fronted by an uncompromising Conservative leader, the reasons to vote for independence have never been stronger.
On an emotional level, regaining your European passport and being part of a single market and a bigger European family will be a compelling message. While independence on an economic level is less clear cut, the economic argument is limited when the British government faces up to an exit from the single market or potentially WTO terms.
Only time will tell but as the country was warned, labelled fear-mongering, in the referendum less than 12 months ago, the Brexit vote could lead to the break-up of the union.