Slogans, like sound bites, just scratch the surface in politics. Find out what’s really going on in Scotland, behind all those snappy sayings.
The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Spring Conference took place between March 17-18, and was held in the coastal City of Aberdeen. Issues with regard to the future of Scotland and the constitutional settlement, naturally, took center stage. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put forth her preference for Scotland to hold a second independence referendum by the spring of 2019.
While Scotland is not a sovereign nation, it does have a fair amount of political autonomy within the UK. Scotland has its own national parliament, which has legislative responsibility for a range of matters, such as healthcare, education, and the environment. The UK Parliament is responsible for reserved matters, such as the Constitution, foreign affairs, and immigration. However, proponents of independence assert that Scotland’s best interests would be served by seceding from the entire UK. Independence for Scotland is not a new issue, but it is at the forefront of current British and global politics.
It is apt, in some respect, that the party chose to showcase their political agenda from within the boundaries of Aberdeen, since oil and energy are key industries for the city’s economy, and for the wider region. Following the discovery of significant amounts of oil in the North Sea during the 1970s, Aberdeen was refashioned as a key petroleum city within Europe, and in recent years has often been referred to as the “Energy Capital of Europe”. During the 1970s, the SNP ran a highly publicized and energetic campaign under the slogan: “It’s Scotland’s Oil”. The party’s focus on oil formed a central feature of their economic argument that Scotland could afford to separate from the UK. Issues relating to oil, gas, and energy were at the forefront of independence debates prior to Scotland going to the polls on referendum day — September 18, 2014. Many opponents of Scottish independence, including some economists, weighed in on oil politics, and outlined the volatile nature of the market, and the fact oil is a finite fossil fuel resource.
Following the defeat of the SNP’s long-awaited independence referendum in 2014, the next slogan to be rolled out is likely to be framed around Brexit, and the perceived centralization of power in London. Nicola Sturgeon’s recent rhetoric with regard to claiming that Scotland is a victim of a “democratic deficit” and is at a “crossroads” provides a hint of what is likely to be part and parcel of future national campaign elections, and possibly another independence referendum.
While Theresa May has rejected calls for a second referendum in the near future, she has not outwardly stated that one, eventually, will not be held. The UK’s Prime Minister has made it clear that she does not support there being a Scottish independence referendum while the country is focusing on Brexit negotiations and securing a post-Brexit deal.
During the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October 2016, Theresa May addressed the delegation from behind a podium with the following slogan attached: “A Country That Works For Everyone.” Given the anger amongst many of the 48% in the UK who voted to remain in the EU, including support for Scottish independence, and the voices of political figures that want Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland, it is evident that the UK Government has an uphill battle to convince British citizens and residents that their political platform and proposals will be in the interests of the entire country.
Yet, while calls for securing another referendum are causing a mixture of anxiety and excitement across the UK, the reality is that the sociopolitical landscape of Scotland is wholly complicated. It also remains to be seen how much political support Nicola Sturgeon will receive within Scotland in terms of independence.
On the surface, the Scottish Government is in a favorable position to continually call for a second referendum. Aside from the fact that Scotland, overall, voted to remain in the EU, nearly 92% of Members of the UK Parliament (MPs) that represent Scottish constituencies are SNP politicians. Moreover, the SNP is the party of power in Scotland, and control a minority government. Following the independence referendum of 2014, the SNP emerged as one of the largest British political parties, with a surge in membership from supporters of independence. At the time of writing, the SNP has somewhere in the region of 120,000 members — no mean feat considering Scotland is a small nation-state. Additionally, the Scottish Parliament also includes six Scottish Green parliamentarians. The Scottish Greens also support independence. Nevertheless, behind the slogans and official statistics, the Scottish political climate is mixed and complicated. The UK Government might not be Sturgeon’s only major obstacle.
The SNP framing the debate for Scottish independence through the lens of Brexit is a gamble. Although Scotland voted to remain in the EU, the outcome was far from unanimous. It is not an insignificant statistic that 38% of the total electorate in Scotland voted to leave the EU. Sturgeon’s calls for an independent Scotland to join the EU will not go down well with many in Scotland who voted against remaining in the bloc. Moreover, the future of the EU is in peril. Brexit is but one pressure facing the EU, and the rise of far right politics across the continent remains concerning. This year countries such as Germany and France — pivotal nations within the EU — are set to hold critical elections. If far right parties make significant inroads in these elections, that will ultimately put a strain on the EU. If Marine Le Pen — leader of the National Front — wins the French Presidential election, or even comes close, then there is a possibility of France leaving the EU. The future is unknown. Thus, international relations and any further changes within the EU political landscape could influence opinions on the institution in Scotland.
On the domestic front, Nicola Sturgeon receives continuous criticism from opponents in the Scottish Parliament with regard to the political management of Scotland. The Conservatives, the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament, have the following message as a Pinned Tweet on their Twitter account:
— ScotConservatives (@ScotTories) March 19, 2017
During a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, asserted that the majority of Scots do not want another referendum. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, accused Sturgeon of hypocrisy, stating that the SNP has ignored “votes on crucial issues” in the Scottish Parliament in areas relating to health care and education. Issues relating to National Health Service (NHS) waiting times in Scotland continue to attract attention and debate, with many voices stating that the SNP ought to do more to help deal with the crisis. There are many people in Scotland and across the UK following the divisive debates, and it remains to be seen what will happen over the course of the next few months and years.
Nicola Sturgeon has her own uphill battle to convince Scotland of her plans, and she will continue to be challenged for her views on independence, the EU, and political decisions made by the SNP minority government.