Why you can forget Scexit - for now
Scotland will not be leaving the United Kingdom anytime soon
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For much of the last six years it’s been popular to argue that Brexit will inevitably be followed by “Scexit” —Scotland’s exit from the United Kingdom. After Brexit drove a huge wedge between a more conservative England and a liberal progressive Scotland, so the thinking went, there was simply no way the Union would survive.
Convincing the Scots to remain in the United Kingdom after it had left the European Union, a political strategist once told me, was like trying to convince Londoners to vote for Brexit or California to vote for Trump -it was virtually impossible.
Much of this was then further encouraged by the rise of Boris Johnson, a populist who many Scots loathed and saw as the very embodiment of all that is wrong with politics in Westminster, England and the Tories: out-of-touch, arrogant, elitist, pro-Brexit.
But Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden and dramatic fall from power last week has undermined much of this narrative, suggesting that, actually, Scexit might not be inevitable after all. Indeed, if you take a step back from this debate and look at the latest evidence in Scotland —as I just did for a recent talk to a law firm in London— then you will find six reasons why Scexit will not be happening anytime soon …
The first and most obvious reason is the shock departure of Sturgeon herself. Whatever your view of Scottish independence, whatever your view of Brexit, whatever your view of Sturgeon, the fact remains that Scotland’s first minister was and remains one of the most talented politicians of her generation.
There is a reason why she was once the most popular party leader in the country, capable of inspiring considerable support both in Scotland and beyond, especially among Labour and Remain voters who saw her as a counterweight to the Tories.
For this reason, and with no obvious successor, Sturgeon’s fall from power is a major blow to the independence movement which, like most anti-establishment campaigns, has long needed a charismatic leader to hold its core support together and widen it over time. When such leaders are absent, infighting and weakness usually follow.
More important than Sturgeon, however, is a second factor, which few people in her party seem to have grasped -the changing mood music in Scotland.
Despite Sturgeon’s charisma, in recent years it’s become increasingly clear that many Scots simply do not share the SNP’s utter obsession with single-issue politics, with the push for a second referendum.
If you look at the very latest polling, then you will see, clearly, that most Scots, unlike the SNP, do not see the world through the lens of one issue. When they are asked to rank their most pressing priorities, they put independence in a distant seventh place.
Most Scots, in short, want better hospitals. They want better schools. They want to lower the cost of living. They want a much stronger economy. And they want to tackle endemic poverty and inequality. What they don’t want is a governing party which relegates all these issues behind the overriding quest for a second referendum.
Yet, clearly, that’s what they feel they’ve got. If you ask Scots what they want to prioritise they’ll tell you “health and the National Health Service”. But if you ask them what they think the SNP prioritises they’ll say “getting Scottish independence”.
And this asymmetry, remarkably, is even visible among the SNP’s support. It speaks volumes that only one-third of SNP voters put independence among their top three most pressing issues today. Like their fellow Scots, they are far more focused on the urgent need to improve Scotland’s health service and lower the cost of living.
The SNP’s failure to deliver on these priorities, or even to be seen to share the same priorities as voters, has clearly led more than a few voters to question the direction of travel. And this can also be seen in a third area: Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to try and frame the next general election, in 2024, as a de facto second referendum on Scexit.
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