Enthusiasm for ending the 313-year union between the Scots and England has soared in the past, especially in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, when it seemed, briefly, that the Scots were going to vote in favor of leaving the UK (the final result was 55% to 45% vs.)
But separatism has always been a minority pursuit in Scotland, the distant dream, though endlessly debated, of activists, writers and radicals. The recent change in attitude of Scots towards self-government has happened for several reasons, but Johnson himself is an important one.
Campaigning on the simple but effective promise of making Brexit a success, Johnson swept through most of England’s Westminster constituencies last December, routing Jeremy Corbyns’ Labor Party in his working class heart and radically reshaping the English political landscape.
But in Scotland, where opposition to Brexit is intense and Johnson didn’t like much, the Tories in fact lost pro-independence seats, and resolutely Europhile, Scottish National Party (SNP).
Since then, Johnsons has botched its attempt to contain the coronavirus pandemic (the UK has the most mortality rate covid-19 from any country in Europe) and his willingness to accept a no-deal Brexit (which would see Britain leaving the European Union in the absence of a formal trade deal with Brussels) have aggravated the anti-conservative hostility of the Scots.
As the next May election for the semi-autonomous Holyrood Scotlands Legislature in Edinburgh draws closer, support for the Conservatives has continued to stagnate; support for the SNP has reached record levels.
However, the roots of the Scottish nationalist wave lie beyond Brexit and the personal toxicity of the British Conservative leader.
The coronavirus crisis arrived in Britain after a decade of spending cuts that seemed designed, by successive Conservative administrations in London, to punish the most marginalized members of society and undermine the British welfare state according to -war. High employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy conducted more as an ideological than an economic agenda, a United Nations Report in the effects of conservative austerity reforms concluded last year.
Studying the impact of these reforms, a large number of Scots seem to have decided that social democracy was no longer possible in the UK and that constitutional change was their only path to a more progressive economic future.
The SNP, since gaining power in Holyrood 13 years ago, has encouraged this view. Using the existing structures of the decentralized Scottish government, the party has withstood some of the most extreme examples of neoliberal policy making adopted south of the border.
As a result, although students in England now face some the highest university tuition fees in the world, students in Scotland can still attend university for free; and although patients in England have to pay for their over-the-counter drug prescriptions, patients in Scotland have access to some drug treatments free of charge.
The pandemic has reinforced the feeling that Scotland and England are separating politically.
As head of the Scottish government with oversight over Scottish health and police policies, SNP chief Nicola Sturgeon has lifted lockdown restrictions in Scotland. at a slower pace that Johnson has in England and was faster to apply social distancing rules.
On the one hand, Sturgeons ‘decision to depart from the Westminsters’ coronavirus strategy highlighted the limits of the political autonomy of Scots in the UK; on the other, he has amplified belief, held by an ever-growing share of the Scottish public, that Scotland has the capacity to run its own affairs.
Sturgeon, a popular and formidable activist, is determined to advocate for a separate Scottish state. On September 1, she ad new plans to turn the dream of Scottish independence into reality. If her plans win majority support in Mays Holyrood’s next poll, she said, Westminster will have no choice but to allow a new vote.
Assuming Scottish public opinion continues on its current course, 2021 will be a critical point for the UK’s constitutional survival.
The battle lines for the future of the Anglo-Scottish union have been set.
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