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Navigating the Journey to Independence: The SNP's Patient Pursuit of a Prolonged Path

Monday, 08 January 2024 17:42 Culture

Beyond Elections: The Evolving Landscape of Scottish Independence and the Power of Patience

For those eyeing political office in Scotland, a crucial realization is dawning: the ranks of 'yes' voters are swelling, and they're in it for the long haul. In the backdrop of this year's elections lies a more profound narrative—one that aligns with major constitutional milestones in Scotland. Paradoxically, if prevailing trends persist, this period may mark the inception of a more patient phase in the relentless journey toward Scottish independence. While such sentiments might not echo from the SNP or the yes movement, they encapsulate the thoughtful contemplation occurring away from the political forefront, recognizing the challenges that lie ahead.

As May approaches, it will mark a quarter-century since the inaugural Scottish parliament elections. Following that, September will commemorate a decade since the inaugural referendum on Scotland's independence. These anniversaries form part of a political continuum that spans decades, if not centuries, and is far from reaching its culmination. Contrary to short-term electoral prognostications, a holistic assessment of constitutional change in Scotland reveals an unmistakable trajectory—towards independence.

The first critical assessment involves gauging the level of support for independence. Drawing from 19 years of experience working with SNP politicians, the trajectory has been clear—from approximately 30% in 2005 to an average of about 50% today. Importantly, the desire for Scottish independence has entrenched itself deeply, transcending the immediate influences of Brexit or political figures like Boris Johnson. Rather, it reflects a more enduring shift in the underlying sentiments of the Scottish populace.

Crucially, this sentiment is not confined to those who participated in the independence vote a decade ago. Recent data reveals that two-thirds of individuals under the age of 25, who were ineligible to vote in 2014, now rally behind the cause of independence. Simultaneously, the fervent young voters of 2014 have not swayed significantly towards pro-union or conservative ideals as they entered their thirties. For them, and a substantial portion of those under 50, who consistently form a majority favoring independence in polls, two notions have become ingrained: firstly, the conviction that Scotland should be independent, and secondly, the understanding that patience is a virtue in this protracted journey. As the political landscape continues to evolve, the narrative of Scottish independence unfolds with resilience and a commitment to the enduring power of patience.

Shifting Dynamics: The Evolving Landscape of Scottish Independence in the Eyes of a New Generation

A significant transformation is underway among Scotland's young voters, where the conviction that Scotland should be an independent entity has become the prevailing norm. This sentiment resonates deeply with a generation coming of age in a political climate that fosters confidence in Scotland's autonomy while diminishing trust in the broader UK framework. While a change in the UK government might momentarily impact support, this generation is distinctively aware that alternatives exist, setting them apart from their predecessors.

Unlike earlier generations who waited patiently for the establishment of a Scottish parliament, today's youth harbor a pragmatic understanding that independence is not an immediate prospect. While their aspirations align with sovereignty, they recognize the complexity of the journey. Accustomed to navigating disappointment in various policy domains dictated by UK governments, these young voters are astute. They comprehend that an SNP victory in the upcoming election doesn't automatically translate to an imminent referendum.

This poses a strategic conundrum for the SNP. While it might require bold leadership to acknowledge the protracted nature of the independence journey, the public is cognizant of this reality. The 2014 and Brexit referendums generated hope for swift change among ardent independence supporters, but experience has shown that such opportunities are rare. Temporarily setting aside constitutional preferences could pave the way for a new electoral dynamic that lays the groundwork for eventual independence.

As older pro-independence voters contemplate shifting allegiance to parties like Labour, a nuanced approach is needed. Those considering a return to Labour are not the same voters who left in 2015. Many harbor latent support for or at least an openness to independence, integrating these aspirations into their evolving political ideology. The electoral landscape is evolving, and navigating this shift requires astute leadership that acknowledges the complex interplay of political dynamics within the broader context of Scotland's quest for independence.

The Crossroads for Labour in Scotland: Navigating Independence Aspirations

As Labour increasingly relies on latent pro-independence supporters for electoral success in Scotland, the party finds itself standing at a critical juncture in the nation's journey. While gestures like an energy company based in Aberdeen may momentarily engage pro-independence young Scots, Labour's trajectory toward conservative voters in the south risks alienating this crucial demographic. A mere superficial shift won't suffice; a substantive recalibration in anti-independence rhetoric is imperative.

Labour must recognize that the status quo, if it fails to deliver for the Scottish populace, will demand accountability. For the first time under a Labour government, voters are keenly aware of the potential for a better alternative. If the party cannot meet these expectations, it risks losing the newfound support it garnered from those considering independence.

While it is not my place to speak for the SNP, I genuinely hope they can send a robust contingent of MPs to Westminster to prevent Labour from taking Scotland for granted, as it has done in the past. Nevertheless, if this scenario doesn't materialize, it would be a grave mistake for unionists to assume it's the end of the road.

Should Labour prove incapable of satisfying pro-independence voters and unable to secure victory without their support, Scotland may well be on the cusp of the next phase in its constitutional journey. The stakes are high, and the dynamics are evolving. The challenge for Labour lies in understanding and responding to the aspirations and sentiments of a populace increasingly inclined toward independence. Liz Lloyd, a specialist partner at Flint Global with a focus on politics, devolution, Scotland, and the transition to net zero, served as chief of staff and strategic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon from 2015 to 2023.

In the unfolding political landscape of Scotland, Labour stands at a pivotal juncture, with its success increasingly intertwined with the support of pro-independence voters. As the party navigates this delicate balance, it must recognize that mere symbolic gestures will not suffice. A substantive shift in anti-independence rhetoric and a genuine commitment to addressing the aspirations of the Scottish electorate are essential.

The potential reliance on latent pro-independence supporters places a significant responsibility on Labour to deliver tangible outcomes and avoid taking Scotland for granted. The electorate, now aware of alternative possibilities, expects accountability and results. If Labour fails to meet these expectations, it risks losing the newfound support from those contemplating independence.

While the SNP's role in shaping Scotland's political future is pivotal, the hope is that it can send a robust representation to Westminster to ensure that Labour does not underestimate the nation's desires, as it may have in the past. However, in the event that this doesn't transpire, unionists must refrain from prematurely declaring an end to the journey.

The evolving dynamics indicate that Scotland may be on the verge of the next phase in its constitutional journey. The challenge for Labour lies in its ability to adapt, understand, and respond to the changing sentiments of a populace increasingly inclined towards independence. Liz Lloyd's insights, rooted in her extensive political experience, serve as a sobering reminder of the intricate path ahead, urging political actors to navigate with sensitivity and foresight in this critical chapter of Scotland's political evolution.

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