The Scottish independence movement seems to have been overshadowed by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
There are two scenarios: the decline of Scottish nationalism or, conversely, the end of the four nations.
The ability of the British or Scottish governments to overcome the dire economic situation caused by the pandemic will determine the future of Scottish independence.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus and its new mutants, a new era of uncertainty and risk has begun that does not support citing old arguments for Scottish independence. No one can predict what the future of the Scottish referendum will look like after the coronavirus! Only two main scenarios can be considered for it.
Scotland’s future scenarios after the pandemic
Two completely contradictory scenarios can be considered for the future of Scottish independence: The first scenario, based on some predictions, is that after Covid-19, “Scottish nationalism will most likely be pushed back.” But the second scenario, according to other predictions, is quite the opposite, believing that the pandemic could be “the final nail in the coffin of the four nations.”
According to surveys conducted in 2020 after the outbreak, however, neither scenario is feasible, because in the first survey after the outbreak of the disease, little change is seen in this respect and the support for independence remained 46%, support for the union 47%, and 7% still remaining undecided. But even if we accept that coronavirus has not had a sudden impact on how people think about independence, nor changed the financial implications or assessments of how to deal with it, it is likely to play a major role in next May’s elections.
Reasons for the realisation of the first scenario
Reasons behind the decline of Scottish nationalism are based on the “four nations approach” as an example of the benefits of cooperation and union. Those who believe in this view exemplify the financial strength of the British Treasury to fight the virus as compared to the ability of an independent Scotland to do so. They believe that Scotland will not be able to manage financial and economic affairs independently.
Reasons for the realisation of the second scenario
At the same time, there are other reasons for the severe disintegration of the union and the rise of independence sentiments in Scotland since the outbreak. This argument means that Scottish authorities, under limited autonomy, are only responsible for matters such as education. They have no authority in finances and public health. If these important matters are left to an independent Scotland, they will be able to run their own affairs. While the British Government is responsible for immigration, foreign policy and most importantly financial packages to support those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Of course, some other polls support an independent Scottish Government. Of these, 74% say that an independent Scotland can handle the situation well, and only 47% say the same about remaining in the four nations.
Brexit is another factor which has strengthened the prospects of Scottish independence. The Scots are looking to reap the benefits of being in the EU, including the lack of tariffs, the customs union, and easy travel for tourism and trade. Therefore, given Britain’s inability to contain the pandemic and its dire economic consequences, it is very likely that Covid-19 and Brexit will have a growing impact on Scottish independence.
Conservatives support the realisation of the first scenario
Because the Conservatives rule Scotland like an “oligarchic” group, their interests force them to reject the independence referendum. They do not welcome the organisation and mobilisation of the working class for independence. Support for independence in 2010 was about 28%. In 2014, it was 45%. This percentage may increase with the prevalence of the pandemic and its economic consequences. Therefore, 45% support for independence does not seem right. Independence rallies are held but not covered by the media.
The effect of economic growth or decline on the realisation of scenarios
The pandemic raised questions of economic uncertainty for the Scots. Can the North Sea make enough money for Scotland at the time of independence by reducing demand for oil? On the other hand, the pandemic has caused two million British people to lose their jobs, GDP to fall and debt levels to rise. So, this year, it is questionable whether the UK can provide the necessary financial support for Scotland and thus prove its effectiveness to them. At the same time, the cost of advertising in this economic crisis is a serious issue. Is the referendum still approved in these circumstances? The experience of unemployment and anxiety caused by inadequate or inaccessible health services will not be forgotten soon.
Under these pressures, Scottish society prioritises health and seeks to address its economic consequences. Under these circumstances, society is unlikely to continue to support the idea of independence. These conditions provide the best opportunity for Conservatives led by Boris Johnson to back down from the decision of a large percentage of independence seekers with populist slogans such as economic efficiency and its combination with values of solidarity, fairness, responsibility, and kindness.
In contrast, the Scottish Government’s relative success in controlling the coronavirus has fuelled nationalist sentiment. Fifty-five percent of Scots voted in favour of independence in a new poll. This pro-independence majority shows that the government, led by Scottish nationalists, has been more successful in controlling the crisis than Boris Johnson and his cabinet.
Therefore, the realisation of any of the above scenarios can be a function of economic efficiency and controlling the consequences of the outbreak. Now, both the Scottish and British governments can persuade voters to affirm or reject independence, whichever is more efficient in these circumstances.
Delay tactics in holding a referendum
Regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic, delays in the Scottish independence referendum are appropriate for those who believe in both scenarios. On the one hand, the delay in the referendum gives the British Government a better opportunity to focus on finalising Brexit and setting its own internal agenda. At the same time, this will be an opportunity for the SNP, so that they can re-evaluate the possibility of their independence post-Brexit. North Sea oil, which forms the basis of their financial capacity for independence, will also be examined.
The polls look good for the SNP, indicating that the party stands a good chance of winning next May’s elections by a majority. But the important point is that the polls conducted so far show a serious fluctuation in the process of Scottish independence. The spread of the coronavirus, speed of transmission, economic consequences, and the initiative of governments to control it, will have a significant impact on Scotland’s independence project. Therefore, it cannot be said with certainty that Scotland will gain independence. However, as long as the SNP holds a majority, the probability of an independence scenario is high. Thus, based on voter behaviour in the election, one can understand how Covid-19 plays a role and what effects it has.