boris, where’s your troosers?
Now that Brexit’s done, the moon-shot achieved and our response to the pandemic the envy of the whole world, I feel the time is nigh to turn my focus to the developing situation north of the border. Boris Johnson will always be the Prime Minister who took Britain out of the EU but could he also be the one responsible for breaking up the United Kingdom? Brexit, together with the imposition of a de facto Irish Sea border, have given rise to genuine constitutional issues across the whole Union and when (not if) the SNP win another landslide in May’s Scottish Parliament election, the call for another independence referendum will be sounded from all corners of the country.
For many, myself included, the SNP dominance of Scottish politics appears unchallenged since, well, forever but this is not the case. In only 2010 the party had an almost incomprehensible six MPs and the question is exactly how did it get to where it is today, only eleven years later, with forty eight seats? This needs to begin with an historic analysis of Scottish nationalism.
Scotland was among the first countries to describe itself as an independent nation and has occupied its current borders, with its own Parliament, since, give or take, the mid-13th century. The end of the wars with England and the subsequent Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 confirmed it as a sovereign state which would replace any king that did not recognise and respect its status. However, fast-forward three hundred years and a cash-strapped Scotland opted to join England in the ‘Union of Crowns’ rather than become a French satellite and its Parliament was dissolved. It was to remain thus until the reconvening of a devolved operation in 1999.
The SNP, initiated to achieve self-governance, and formed in 1934, was widely seen as a marginal fringe group, associated with students and symbolic stunts such as the theft/repatriation of the Stone of Scone from Westminster. Robert McIntyre won the party’s first seat in 1945 only to lose it at the general election three months later. This set the scene until the late 60s when oil was discovered in the North Sea and the party began campaigning under the slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil”. Unsurprisingly, appealing to the population’s pocket hit the right note and the SNP won more than 30% of the vote, represented in eleven seats.
The party was now on a roll but it took a canny former RBS economist and sometime sex-pest to broaden its appeal beyond its traditionally Protestant support base. By opposing Trident and university tuition fees and with a determined pro-business stance, Alex Salmond, capitalised on the potential of both devolution and the influence of being a relatively small fish within the big EU pond. In the newly establish Holyrood, he effectively took control of the nation’s education, health, taxation and justice systems and in 2011 the party won an overall majority with the pledge of holding a referendum on Scottish independence. This eventually took place three years later.
As it transpired, the ‘Union’ prevailed by a conclusive 55%-45% vote and Salmond handed over responsibility to an equally gifted politician, Nicola Sturgeon, who, via surprisingly positive, upbeat and optimistic social rhetoric increased the party membership from 26,000 to over 125,000. In the 2015 general election, only one year on from their apparent referendum defeat, the SNP recorded a historic landslide, winning 56 out of 59 seats. Without the Tories own secret weapon, Ruth Davidson, it would have probably been a complete whitewash. The result reignited the whole independence discussion and, fuelled by their contention that Scotland has been forcibly taken out of the EU against its will, indyref2 appears to be the gift that keeps giving.
So, when the SNP triumphs again in the impending Holyrood elections, which will be its tenth successive electoral victory, the demand for another referendum will be hard to ignore. We will continue to examine Bumble Boris’s response together with the anticipated machinations in the next eagerly awaited missive.