A poll in yesterday’s Scotsman shows that a large majority of people in Scotland believe discussions about a second independence referendum should stop due to the war in Ukraine.
Two points come to mind. Firstly, it is not that surprising. Secondly, what discussions? Despite much anticipation of “indyref2”, little of substance has emerged from within the SNP or the Scottish Government since last May’s election. As has been clear well before tanks rolled into Ukraine, there isn’t going to be a second referendum any time soon. The same poll also shows that support for Scotland remaining in the UK is hardening – another reason why the SNP is clearly in no rush to push the button right now.
Yesterday’s poll comes after Our Scottish Future released some of its own polling earlier this week which sought to probe deeper into people’s attitudes on the constitutional question. We asked 2,000 Scots whether “a serious plan to change Britain could be more attractive than independence.” Broadly, the answer is yes. (47% agree, 22% disagree, with rest saying neither). Revealingly, while a majority of SNP voters prefer independence, 30% said they would prefer a plan to change Britain. This figure highlights something Our Scottish Future has noted before. The SNP’s coalition of voters is not just made up of solid independence supporters. It also includes about half of “middle Scotland” – the 40% of Scots who are lukewarm both about the Union and independence.
What do all these polls tell pro-UK parties and the UK Government? At Our Scottish Future, we’d argue the message is clear: that while opposing independence and a second referendum is entirely in line with Scottish opinion just now, simply ignoring the matter in the hope it will go away isn’t. Rather, there is an opportunity here for pro-UK parties to use the time we have to examine how to make Britain work better for people open to a serious plan for change.
What the polling also shows us is that while Scots may not want discussions around indyref2 just now, many – including pro-independence supporters – are open-minded about a conversation on how to improve Britain.
This is already happening, quietly, before our eyes; look closely behind the psychodrama of Boris Johnson’s leadership, and it is clear that the UK Government has sought to adopt a much more engaged and cooperative approach with Scotland and the other devolved nations in recent months. The Levelling Up white paper has also offered up new ideas on how a more balanced UK might look. The debate will be added to in the coming months when Labour sets out its own proposals for reform of the UK.
This begs a question: while much focus has been on the SNP’s prospectus for independence, will Scotland’s ruling party have anything to say on this, much wider, debate about the future make-up of the UK? As the government of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and her team have seen the UK governing infrastructure close up over the last decade. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford has set out his own constructive ideas on how we improve the UK over recent months, and they have been influential in the corridors of power. Nicola Sturgeon could do likewise.
It may not be in Mrs Sturgeon’s narrow political interests to set out its ideas on how we improve the Union for us all, but if such ideas are in Scotland’s national interest, shouldn’t she do so all the same?