So, according to the doom-mongers, what started with Brexit will be finished by the coronavirus. Yes, apparently, the quest for Scottish independence from England has been, or is in the process of being restored to the agenda.
Now, the history of these two countries is a long one, and the history of the Scots complaining about being subjugated to the English is as long itself.
Originally independent as a result of winning wars of independence against England, it all changed for the Scots when their King James VI became King James I of England in 1603. This was followed, a little over a century later by the political union of the two countries.
Demands for home rule began in the 1800s. Two referenda were held in 1979 and 1997, and a devolved Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.
The SNP, the Scottish National Party became the governing party of the devolved parliament in 2007, and then won a majority in parliament in 2011. This parliamentary majority led to a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
Now, growing up, I regularly heard debates on independence. It was always a topic of conversation that could be relied upon to stir people’s emotions, and the Scots always complained that they were getting the shitty end of the deal. The Scots repeatedly claimed that the money from the oil fields in the North Sea went to improving the lives of the English rather than those of the Scottish. The English fought back by pointing out that a disproportionate number of the movers and shakers involved in the power centre of Westminster were, in fact, Scots. From personal experience, I can attest that, as with most things in Great Britain, the further away from London you were, the less important you were felt to be. This was certainly reflected in the ‘retirement’ of British Rail trains from the South (where they were no longer acceptable) to Scotland where they would continue to serve for a good few years yet.
Following the vote confirming that Britain was going to leave the EU, Nicola Sturgeon rushed to visit the EU, determined that Scotland should keep its EU status despite Great Britain departing from the EU. Have your cake and eat it, eh Nicola?
The problem was, predictably, that as the leader of a devolved parliament of a country governed by others, it wasn’t immediately obvious what Sturgeon thought she could achieve. Her request for a meeting with the all-important Germans was rejected. The Danes, the Czechs, and the Estonians followed suit. Donald Tusk refused to meet Sturgeon. As way of compensation, Sturgeon met Martin Schulz, and everyone’s favourite Dentist-avoider, Guy Verhofstadt.
Verhofstadt, typically managed to work himself up into a veritable lather when it came to Scotland, saying that it was wrong for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will.
Sturgeon’s trip further triggered concerns in southern, central, and eastern parts of the EU regarding other separatist movements. Various states were outraged at the attempts by Shulz and Juncker to curry favour with the SNP in order to increase pressure on David Cameron about Brexit.
More recently, with the chaos that has accompanied the coronavirus, the idea of yet another referendum has been raised once more. The union of Great Britain, weakened by Brexit, has been further weakened, substantially, by the effects of the coronavirus and the chaos that it has brought.
This, as far as Scotland is concerned, is a good thing. A slow, steady approach to the coronavirus has benefitted Sturgeon as much as the chaos and flip-flop decisions now associated with Johnson’s has hurt the English and Johnson personally.
Both countries have failed to contain the virus, but the images projected by them are akin to chalk and cheese. Johnson’s style has come across as ‘all mouth and no trousers’, whilst for all her lack of flair, Sturgeon has won people over with the image of a steady hand on the tiller.
As we ushered in the new year, Sturgeon reassured the EU that Scotland would indeed return to the EU:
“We have been inside the European Union family of nations for nearly 50 years. We didn’t want to leave and we hope to join you again soon as an equal partner as we face the opportunities and the challenges of the future together.”
So, Sturgeon’s ambitions are clear. But the path that lies ahead of her is not at all clear. There remain impelling economic reasons why Scotland would flounder if granted independence. Scotland’s £12.6 billion shortfall in 2018/19 was equal to more than half of the UK’s fiscal debt, despite Scotland only having 8.3% of the population. In 2019 the debt, the equivalent of 7% of Scotland’s GDP dwarfed the debts of every other EU member state.
Even if Brussels wanted to accept Scotland’s application, the member states wouldn’t allow it.
Sturgeon has insisted that there will be another referendum on Scottish independence as Scots feel they would like to belong to the EU, not the UK. Johnson, however, has repeatedly stated that there will be no new referendum:
"They don't have a notably unifying force in the national mood, they should be only once in a generation."
So, the powers that govern Scotland have stated that there will be no new referendum. Could this change? Of course. If Sturgeon continues to outstrip Johnson in popularity, it’s possible that parliament might complete a u-turn and give Scotland what they want. However, with Scottish finances in the state they are, it seems more than just likely that the Scots, far from succeeding, would end up stuck with ‘Skexit’ having shut themselves out of both unions.