segunda-feira, 13 de março de 2017
Scotland is heading for a second independence poll. Is a Yes vote any more likely?
Scotland is heading for a second independence poll. Is a Yes vote any more likely?
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are edging towards another vote, buoyed by a level of support already at 50%
Sunday 12 March 2017 00.04 GMT
Alex Salmond’s devastation was there for all to see. Just hours after the polls had closed in Scotland’s independence referendum in September 2014, a photographer snapped the then Scottish first minister and Scottish National party leader in a car heading from his constituency to Aberdeen airport, his face unable to hide the pain.
He had expressed confidence the day before that the country was on the verge of independence. But Scotland had spoken and said No. The union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland was unbroken.
But there is a bounce these days about Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, and that should worry anyone who wants to see the United Kingdom remain intact. And it should worry Theresa May.
The SNP, in spite of billing the last vote as a once-in-a-generation test of the Scottish people’s will, is edging towards a second independence referendum. “I think events are moving on. The time is close. The time is coming,” Salmond told the Observer.
A Scottish government source echoed Salmond, saying that while the first minister Nicola Sturgeon had still to make a final decision, a referendum announcement could be just a “matter of weeks” away.
The SNP is looking at autumn next year, or spring 2019, in the window before the UK government’s negotiations with the European Union over Brexit are completed.
May might have concluded that Sturgeon is bluffing. That could be a strategic blunder on the scale of Lord North’s loss of America or David Cameron’s calling a European referendum. Interviews with senior SNP figures and Scottish government officials suggest this is not a bluff.
Such a referendum would be a gamble for the SNP. Are the Scots ready for a second referendum so soon after the tumult of the last one? Would it generate the same excitement? Would voters turn out in the required numbers?
Salmond is bullish. The Scots voted a decisive 45%-55% against independence in 2014 but the latest poll, by Ipsos Mori for Scottish Television, indicates Scotland is evenly divided, with support for independence now up to 50% among likely voters.
Salmond said that was a good base to build on. Thinking back to when he called the independence referendum, he said that support in the polls had stood at only 28% and over the course of the campaign that had risen to 45%. He anticipated an increase during the course of another campaign.
“I think the potential independence vote is 60%-ish. It could be higher,” he said.
Seen from Edinburgh on a sunny day – as it was on Thursday – the old Kingdom of Fife looks as beautiful as anywhere in Scotland, its modest hills rising above the blue waters of the Forth, the landscape dominated by a new gossamer-like white bridge, a symbol of economic progress.
But the view can be misleading. Fife does have wealthy, picturesque places such as St Andrews and the harbours of the East Neuk that attract tourists. But among all the wealth, there are bleak towns and villages, especially the former mining communities, where the conditions are as appalling as anywhere in the UK. The gap between rich and poor in the biggest towns in Fife – Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes – is as stark as anywhere in the UK and widening.
If the SNP does opt for another referendum, one of the first tests of the party’s popularity will come in local council elections on 4 May. Fife, the third-largest council in Scotland after Glasgow and Edinburgh, is Labour-controlled but, like the rest of Labour’s remaining bastions such as Glasgow, it could fall to the SNP.
Marie Penman, a lecturer at Fife College, won a Fife council seat for the SNP in a byelection in Kirkcaldy in 2015. She worries about the prospect of a second referendum, wondering whether uncertainty and nervousness created by Brexit and Trump will make people too afraid to make the leap.
“You know, I have really mixed feelings about this, because I 100% believe Scotland should be an independent country but I do not think they should call it unless there is strong support that says they can win it,” Penman said.
“If they lose it, that is it dead in the water. That is it finished. It would never happen again in our lifetime,” she said.
Aged 49, she has voted SNP all her adult life and finally joined the party in 2012. She left in 2016 – unhappy about the strict discipline the SNP exercises over elected members at Westminster, the Scottish parliament and in local government – and is now an independent. Having left the party, she can be more outspoken in public than most of her former colleagues and expressed niggling doubts about whether there would be an SNP surge in May and whether the party had reached its high point.
The SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats in 2015 but just failed to secure an overall majority in the Scottish parliament last year. “OK, they just missed it by a tiny minority. But maybe that is the start of a bit of a downturn,” she said.
On Main Street in Dunfermline, Fife’s biggest town, older voters expressed horror at the idea of facing all the upheaval of another independence referendum. Of six women congregated around a bench, five voted against in 2014 and the other, a 71-year-old retired auditor from Cowdenbeath, one of the old mining towns, voted for independence but she said she would vote No in a second referendum, partly because the projected revenues from oil have fallen so much.
A street sweeper, listening in to the conversation, volunteered that he had voted against independence and now regretted it. He would vote Yes if given another chance, partly because of Brexit.
The mood elsewhere on Main Street was unequivocally in favour of a re-run of the independence referendum, especially among younger voters. The most potent factor is hostility towards the Conservative government at Westminster, in particular May – though the Tory leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson, is, by comparison, relatively popular – and, given the state of the Labour party, the prospect of the Conservatives being returned again in 2020.
But Brexit is the recurring theme. Scots voted 62% in favour of remaining in the European Union. Rebecca, a 24-year-old administrator, voted a “definite No” to independence last time, in part because of fears about being excluded from the EU. She thinks she would vote Yes this time “because I would not be living in the EU anyway” and an independent Scotland offers the prospect of staying in the EU.
There are some SNP MPs and members of the Scottish parliament, especially younger ones, who do not see a need to rush into another referendum. They can see why Salmond, who is 62, might be impatient but feel they can afford to wait until 2025 or 2030 or even later. Why not, they say, wait until there is a clear 10-point lead in favour of independence in the polls over six months or a year?
But others see the present combination of circumstances as perhaps the best opportunity the party will ever have and that support for independence will rise as a result of campaigning. Kevin Pringle, who first worked for the SNP in 1989 and rose to become communications director until leaving in 2015 for an Edinburgh-based lobbying firm and journalism, said: “Nothing is inevitable in life or politics, but I think another referendum is as inevitable as anything can be.”
Pringle echoed Salmond’s analysis, saying: “At the start of the last referendum, independence support was in the low 30s. This time around – before any campaigning in favour and having soaked up a lot of attacks against – Yes starts at perhaps 50%, according to the latest poll. That must be a very attractive prospect for Nicola Sturgeon, believing that a campaign can push that support further.”
Sturgeon, who polls suggest is much more popular than Salmond – which could be another plus in a referendum campaign – could begin a move towards a referendum when she addresses the SNP spring conference in Aberdeen next weekend on 17 March. The timing of any announcement is partly dependent on events elsewhere, mainly at Westminster, such as when May triggers article 50.
Sturgeon might opt for a more neutral venue than the SNP conference. The Yes campaign was a broad coalition that included Labour supporters and the Greens but it came to be identified too strongly with the SNP. Television shots of cheering, saltire-waving SNP supporters might not be the best place to launch a fresh campaign.
One of the reasons why the Yes camp lost last time, according to the SNP, is because Whitehall threw its resources behind the No campaign. If the referendum is held next year or early 2019, it would be harder for the government to deploy the Treasury and civil service in the same way, given Whitehall would be engaged primarily with the Brexit negotiations.
It was the Treasury which questioned Scotland’s ability to stand on its own economically and also asked which currency it would use. The sharp decline in oil revenue since the first referendum has further undermined the SNP’s economic argument.
Not wanting to fight another referendum when the same issues would rise again, the SNP set up a commission, headed by one of its former Holyrood MSPs, Andrew Wilson, to prepare an alternate economic case. Wilson, an economist, has stripped North Sea oil out of his projections. The argument now is that Scotland, like other small countries which have no oil, can still prosper.
Sturgeon is pressing May to negotiate a Brexit deal that would allow Scotland to remain in the European single market. She is also looking for – and this would be easier for May to agree – powers over fishing and agriculture and other areas to be transferred from Brussels to a Scottish government rather than Westminster. But Scotland’s continued membership of the single market is a red line for Sturgeon and it is hard to see how May can conclude anything other than that it is too complicated to negotiate.
Salmond said he believed that May and her cabinet colleagues had failed to grasp what was happening in Scotland and were only now waking up to the prospect that they could face three crises at once: Brexit, Scotland and Northern Ireland. “My view is that until the last two weeks May did not rate the idea of there being a Scottish referendum. Like all foolish people, you begin to believe your own propaganda: that no one wants a referendum, that it will not happen. That is what they believed.”
He calls May’s speech to the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow earlier this month, in which she made no concessions, “as near disastrous as I have seen since Margaret Thatcher to a Scottish audience. It is not just arrogance but blind arrogance.”
Salmond at times seemed out in front of Sturgeon in pushing for a referendum. Anyone who knows Sturgeon would laugh at the idea of Salmond being a back-seat driver. He describes them as having an “umbilical relationship” and officials confirm the two speak frequently. He himself says he would not push a line that she did not support.
Salmond said the reason for holding a referendum in autumn next year or spring 2019 was “to find a date when the direction of Brexit is known but we have still influence over the outcome”.
There are divides within the SNP on Europe, with a bloc opposed to the EU. Figures such as the former deputy leader Jim Sillars said he would not vote for independence if it was tied to Scotland being in the EU. Another SNP eurosceptic, Alex Neil, a former minister and SNP member of the Scottish parliament, wrote in an article for Holyrood magazine that if Scotland was to be a full member of the EU with England outside, that would make it difficult to retain an open border. That prospect would, he said, play badly in an independence referendum.
Salmond sees the anti-EU bloc as well outnumbered by pro-EU Scots. Added to this, he said, were 180,000 European citizens living in Scotland who were entitled to vote in a referendum and who he estimated this time around would be 90% in favour of independence.
The former Scottish first minister had seemed confident the day before the last referendum. But he needed everything to go right on the day and only a few things did. The young, though generally supportive of independence, did not turn out in the numbers needed. Similarly, there was not the huge turnout needed in working-class areas of Glasgow. Would it be different next time?
Penman remains torn. Like Salmond, she was devastated. She had spent 18 months campaigning. She was so dejected and rundown after the result she had to take part of the following week off. So while she welcomes the prospect of another referendum, she is nervous. “Right now there is always hope. But if you lose a second one, I think that hope would vanish.” She did not relish the prospect of a life without hope.
Is it time to go it alone? Four Scottish voices:
Steven Purcell: Definite Yes
Director, Twenty Ten Consultancy
The UK is becoming an increasingly divided country. Everyone who believes in an open, welcoming, country based on liberal social democracy must be watching in horror at the direction of this hard right Tory government.Stagnant wages, draconian benefit reforms and austerity are leading to a country divided by poverty, hurtling towards a hard and damaging Brexit, rejecting Scotland staying in the single market despite our overwhelming vote to remain.
I was a reluctant Yes in 2014 but I now firmly believe that with political and economic independence we can build Scotland based on social justice, fairness for all, an open relationship with the rest of the world.
Paula Spiers: Not now
I had been solid No for some time because I didn’t think the economic case was strong enough. However, I changed my mind to Yes in the last week or so before the first independence referendum.
I thought that although we’re a small country, why shouldn’t we have ambition? Since the result though, at a time when Scotland needs innovation and a strong hand, I’ve not seen any real evidence of that desire to change. In fact, it feels like we have been treading water, whilst the country is struggling to respond to the financial and economic challenges.
At the same time, I have very serious doubts that Brexit will happen. But if we do, I don’t see any reason to have a referendum until after the negotiations are over and the UK is set to leave the EU.
Thomas Lenaghan: Definitely No
Director of development, Morris Construction
I was firmly against independence in 2014 and, though I was dismayed at the decision to leave the European Union, I haven’t moved much from that position since then. I work in the construction industry and have first-hand experience of the apocalypse which engulfed our trade in 2008.
The industry is still feeling the effects of that almost a decade later and the major banks are still behaving badly. Brexit can only increase that uncertainty. Like most Scots I would like to see this country become independent, but this is simply not the time.
Andrew Valentine: Was No, now Yes
I live a few miles from the border and I do most of my work in England, so there was a fear about what might happen if independence had been gained in 2014. I wasn’t getting any straight answers either and I was very committed to the No cause. However Brexit changed everything for me.
I tour around Europe a lot and this will have a big impact. I was shocked that Scotland was getting pulled out of Europe against the will of the majority and I was also shocked at the tone of the Leave campaign with its overtly racist tones and the influence of Nigel Farage. That’s why I’ll be voting Yes to Scottish independence at the next referendum.