Scottish independence no longer scares economists.


by Fabio Peterlongo

05 October 2020

British businesses no longer fear Scotland’s independence. This is what emerges from a poll published by the London Times on 2 October. As many as 54% of business executives surveyed suggested that the separation of Scotland from the UK would not “create problems”, while only 22% consider it a risk factor from an economic point of view. Thus, one of the strong elements of the unionist “discourse” seems to be cracking, the one according to which Scottish independence would hurt the economy. It had always been said: Scotland too isolated to stand alone, the British economies too integrated to separate.

Meanwhile, the political climate also seems to have changed. While the first Scottish minister Nicola Sturgeon (independence activist, expression of the Scottish National Party) registers an unprecedented peak in popularity, polls indicate that a new referendum for independence could give the opposite result to that of 2014, when the “no” the separation from the United Kingdom won with 55% prevailing on the “yes” to the separation. This was revealed by a Yougov poll published on August 12, which indicates that the Scots in favor of independence would be 52%, a share never reached before.

Fostering this new trend would be the combined action of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, managed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a manner considered by the most “disastrous” as suggested by the meager 20% of popularity that Johnson enjoys in Scotland . On the contrary, Prime Minister Sturgeon collects what was sown in the lockdown, when it appeared every day on Scottish TV, communicating in an empathic and reassuring way, but imposing more severe contagion containment measures than in other regions of Great Britain. By August Sturgeon’s popularity had skyrocketed to a staggering 72%. Even the Scots opposed to independence promote it: 59% of them indicate that the “first minister” has done well in times of pandemic. 

The element is crucial: with the 1998 devolution, health care has become the responsibility of Scottish institutions. The pandemic has shown the Scots an unprecedented centrality of the government of Edinburgh, previously perceived as relegated to legislating on secondary issues. Scotland was perceived to be efficient in managing the crisis, in contrast to the chaos that reigns in Westminster and Downing Street. This is confirmed by the political analyst of the “Courier” David Clegg: “Covid-19 has brought with it this strange by-product. All the questions about the economy, the position of Scotland in the world and the risks of breaking the bonds of three centuries of shared history, have been reduced to a much simpler question: Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson? “.

After the defeat of the separatists in 2014, Brexit had intervened to inflate the consensus for self-government requests: the “no” at the exit of the European Union remain won in Scotland with 62% of the vote, revealing a widespread pro-European sentiment. The Scots seem to consider community institutions as a guarantee “counterpart” to the central Westminster government. The results of the 2019 general elections are also in line: if at national level Boris Johnson triumphed with 43%, in Scotland the “Tories” collected a modest 25%, down by 3 points compared to 2017. Thus, in the last two years , the requests from the SNP for a new referendum for independence to be celebrated in the vicinity of the next elections to the Scottish Parliament, scheduled for 2021, in which an agile victory of the SNP is expected, which it would give a further signal to London.“

But Boris Johnson’s veto is looming, who in January rejected calls for a new vote: “We will not allow another referendum that would confirm the political stagnation in which Scotland has been in for a decade, with Scottish hospitals, jobs and schools again left behind in due to a separation campaign from the United Kingdom “. Johnson does not intend to take the risk that Prime Minister David Cameron had taken, who granted the 2014 referendum in the belief that the “no” would win. But if Cameron was saved by the broken headset in the Scottish referendum, the same did not happen in the Brexit referendum: there too a “remain” victory was looming, advocated by the former conservative prime minister himself. But surprisingly they won the “leave” and the first head to roll was that of Cameron. “

An error that Johnson does not intend to repeat by authorizing a consultation with an unexpected outcome. Sturgeon’s protests are worth little, as he replied to Johnson in a clear- cut manner: ” The Tories are terrified that Scotland will exercise its right to choose its future. But democracy will prevail.” The game for independence risks shattering the rocky nationalism of Boris Johnson, who does not want to transform himself from Churchill’s emulator into the one who made the dissolution of the United Kingdom possible.“

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