We’re Still Here
This really wasn’t supposed to happen. After the Supreme Court ruling the blizzard of self-congratulatory editorial and op-ed flooding from the desks of the scribes that faithfully perform their roles for the Union was remarkable. Then came the change of leadership for the SNP group at Westminster and again the pens were out to write the obituary of the party, Sturgeon’s leadership and the Yes movement (not necessarily in that order). Then Gordon Brown published his plans for a New Britain and once again the eulogies for the independence movement rung out. Who could resist the idea of empowering Mayors or the vision of how Grimsby is reinventing itself? “The constitutional initiative has now passed to Labour” opined James Mitchell gravely. Finally, the idea of a de facto referendum was ridiculed and lambasted as alternatively useless, impossible and unwinnable by an unlikely band uniting left and right.
But as the shrill chorus subsides and the obituaries lie unread, something remarkable is happening. Yesterday new polling from IPSOS announced that: 56% would vote Yes and 44% No in an immediate #indyref2 – Yes up 6 points since May; that the SNP had strengthened its General Election support to 51%; and that there was no indication that a ‘de facto’ referendum strategy would harm the party’s electoral chances. Ipsos’ Scottish Political Monitor suggests the SNP would win 58 seats at the next UK general election, with Scottish Labour on one and every other party facing a wipe-out.
So, what’s going on?
At least three things are worth noticing. There’s a push and a pull that transcends the bleakness of the political landscape and the broken economy – and Labour’s efforts to re-frame the constitutional debate have failed.
First, the idea of a “golden thread of competence” – ie the idea that a nationalist government can ‘prove itself’ as a prefigurative testing ground to win over sceptics has fallen flat. The crowd of critics of the SNP’s time in office is now a deep throng. They can be found on the left and the right and in the middle, inside the party and beyond it. But the core ideas of sovereignty and yes (!) self-determination are motivations above and beyond individual policy failures, deep mistakes and problems in leadership, and the contradictions and hypocrisies of office. It’s not that the many failings of the SNP don’t matter – they most certainly do – it’s just that the idea of creating a functioning Scottish democracy is seen as a higher goal and a more vital destination. That the performance of the SNP has disconnected from the deeper movement for change is a remarkable and a positive thing. It’s a harsh and weird reality that the independence movement is thriving despite, not because of the SNP.
Second, Gordon Brown’s treatise has fallen “stillborn from the press,” not because it didn’t have some good ideas, but because all around us you see the overwhelming evidence, the daily lived experience of a broken Britain. If Brown maintains a position in the imagination of orphaned centrists as a giant figure of the Labour and Trade Union Movement, a man of heft, integrity and intellect, that is not the role he plays-out in the mind of the wider general public. For the clubby commentariat Brown is a harbinger of the Good Ole Days, for many in Scotland he is simply an ex-politician deeply tainted by his time in office and his role in Project Fear. People don’t believe him, and they think Britain is irredeemable.
Third, if the Supreme Court ruling has galvanised rather than crushed the Yes movement, so too has the daily doom-scroll of living in Britain under Rishi Sunak’s government. If the basic idea of sovereignty is the ‘pull’, living in collapsing Britain is the ‘push’. It’s not just the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of a government spouting about ‘climate leadership’ while opening a ******* coal mine, or the astonishing spectacle of the Michelle Mone corruption scandal unfolding before us, it’s the brutal economic realities.
Back in October Derek Thompson wrote a blistering piece for the American magazine The Atlantic on what he called ‘decades-long economic dysfunction (“How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe“). He wrote:
“When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.”
Thompson’s analysis of economic failure and growing deprivation and inequality was echoed by the FT’s John Burn-Murdoch who explained back in September:
“Income inequality in US & UK is so wide that while the richest are very well off, the poorest have a worse standard of living than the poorest in countries like Slovenia. Essentially, US & UK are poor societies with some very rich people.”
Burn-Murdoch’s analysis showed that now “the poorest Irish have a standard of living almost 63% higher than the poorest in the UK.”
One of the most visible signs of Britain’s broken economy is not just the proliferation – but the normalisation of food banks as if they were perfectly natural phenomena. Today Penny Mordaunt has re-dubbed them ‘food pantries’ and boasts that she is opening “three new Food Pantries in Portsmouth North” with the proceeds of her ridiculous book ‘Greater: Britain After the Storm’.
If Mordaunt’s word-games seem obscene, it’s just the latest iteration of Britain as a ‘slow-motion catastrophe.’ In this brutal context we should not be surprised that polling for independence is rising. In fact, it’s rising in unexpected demographic groups:
The latest Ipsos Mori polling reveals that a massive 70% of 16-34 year olds would vote Yes.
Among the 16-24 age group, this rises even higher to 73%. This is significant, as studies of the 2014 referendum show that 16-24 year olds narrowly voted No in 2014.
In the 35-54 age group, support for independence mirrors the national average – with Yes at 56%.
What’s perhaps most noteworthy is the 45% support for independence among the over-65s, the highest result for that age group in any poll in years.
This isn’t an excuse for complacency, nor is it a defence of the SNP. In fact, discussions behind the scenes are ongoing on how to boost the wider movements campaigns in 2023. But these latest polls are a challenge to the people who have routinely stated (in a state of supreme confidence) ‘Now is not the time’ – but added that when it is the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people then yes of course there must be a referendum. Polling reaching into the high fifties and sixties changes the dynamics of everything and ratchets up the ante for those sitting on the fence, those whose belief in Britain is draining away with every week that passes, those who have grown tired of defending the indefensible. You don’t need to do that anymore.
The 56% is important. We’re not going anywhere. It tells us Yma o Hyd as they say in Wales.