The First Minister has changed, but the goal of independence remains steadfast.
Endorsed by First Minister Humza Yousaf and SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, the motion outlines the party’s plans. It includes publishing a withdrawal agreement for discussions with the UK government, soliciting public input on a provisional constitution, and establishing a diplomatic envoy for EU membership negotiations. While Nicola Sturgeon previously suggested using the next general election as a “de facto referendum,” there was uncertainty about the victory threshold. Initially, it was proposed that the party aim for over 50% of all Scottish votes, including those for pro-independence parties.
Amidst the SNP’s internal strife and controversy following the departure of longtime leader Nicola Sturgeon earlier this year, some believe the party’s dominance in Scotland may be waning. An independent Scotland, if realized, intends to rejoin the European Union, considering Scotland’s strong anti-Brexit stance during the 2016 EU referendum. This stance contrasts with Labour’s commitment to adhere to Brexit.
Controversial idea of de facto referendum
Pro-union parties have previously dismissed using a general election as a substitute for a dedicated referendum on a specific issue. Scottish Secretary Alister Jack stated last year, “I don’t believe that people vote solely based on one specific issue in a manifesto. Regarding the de facto referendum the First Minister [Sturgeon] suggests during a general election, I don’t see a mandate for such a proposal. You can’t claim a mandate for something when it’s established that you have no legal authority over it.”
The new proposal also recommends that the SNP’s manifesto for the upcoming autumn election should prominently declare on its very first page that voting SNP is a vote for Scotland’s independence.
This approach is outlined in a motion co-authored by Mr Yousaf and the party’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn. It will be presented to SNP members at the autumn conference in Aberdeen next month. However, it’s worth noting that this new strategy lowers the threshold for triggering independence negotiations, as it now requires only a majority of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats rather than aiming for 50.1 per cent or more of the overall vote.
What is the Scot’s future perspective on independence
A survey published last month by Survation estimated that the SNP could only win 24 seats at next year’s vote, the same number as Labour and short of the 30 it would need to claim the right to open independence negotiations.
The SNP won 48 seats at the 2019 general election, but repeating such a feat is a much more difficult task following Ms Sturgeon’s resignation, with polls suggesting it is now neck-and-neck with Labour regarding popular support.
A recent Survation poll suggested the SNP could lose almost half the 48 seats it won at the 2019 Westminster election, with Labour picking up 24 — a dramatic improvement on opposition leader Keir Starmer’s current total of one and a significant boost to his hopes of entering Downing Street at next year’s general election.
When Nicola Sturgeon resigned as Scotland’s first minister in March, many commentators thought that was the end of Scottish independence. And the fortunes of the Scottish National Party have declined since Humza Yousaf was elected as her successor. For the first time in over a decade, the Scottish Labour Party has a chance of gaining several dozen seats from the SNP at next year’s UK general election. That could distinguish between a hung parliament and Keir Starmer having a stable majority. But the SNP is not the independence movement. Opinion polls since the spring have also shown something that almost no one expected. Support for independence has remained strong, on average around 3.3 points higher than the 44.7 per cent achieved in the independence referendum in 2014.
Could the young generation play a changing role?
Young people have consistently shown more significant support for independence than older generations. However, this trend isn’t solely tied to age. For all cohorts born after the 1950s, support for independence has grown as they have aged. A prime example is the generation born in the 1960s. They came of age during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister and developed their political views in the 1980s when support for the Conservative Party in Scotland declined. In 1992, only 27 per cent of this group supported independence, but this figure has steadily risen to 44 per cent since 2014.
It already explains the gentle rise in support for independence since 2014, now that the temporary effect of the Covid disruption has faded. As young people reach voting age and older adults die, the increase in support is about 0.4 per cent annually. In the nine years since the referendum, that amounts to about 3.6 percentage points, which would be enough to take the 44.7 of 2014 to 48.3 per cent, close to the average in recent polls.
Another demographic shift has reinforced this trend. Whereas migrants to Scotland from the rest of the UK used to be more sceptical of independence than non-migrants, recent polls suggest the difference has almost vanished. Migrants from outside the UK have always been as likely to support independence as people born in Scotland.
Independence requires political integration in Scotland
In 2007, the Scottish Nationalist Party first assumed power in Scotland’s devolved government, and in 2014, it secured and lost a historic referendum on Scotland’s independence from the rest of the UK. Following that vote, support for autonomy saw a significant surge, leading many to believe its eventual success was almost inevitable.
The enduring backing for independence is likely to have little impact on party-political cooperation, which makes the challenges faced by the SNP still relevant. However, political perspectives rooted in demographic shifts and expanded education are ultimately not contingent on the fortunes of specific politicians or parties. Those who support the Union should not become complacent.