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Unionist parties seem to have given up the fight to keep the UK together

09 Aug 2020 5 minute read
A Scottish independence rally. Picture by Azerifactory (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

It recently dawned on me that the reason why Scottish independence now feels so inevitable is that the Unionist parties no longer seem bothered to make the effort required to stop it from happening.

It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion looking at what is going on in Scottish politics in particular as they prepare for next year’s Holyrood elections.

With just 10 months until election day, both Labour and the Conservatives are quite frankly a complete shambles there.

The Conservatives have just appointed their third leader in a year, Douglas Ross, to the post. Ross isn’t even a member of the Scottish Parliament, although he has said that he will stand again in May.

The Conservatives don’t seem to have learned anything from Labour’s failed experiment with Jim Murphy, the MP who led Scottish Labour for six months in 2015 before losing his own Westminster seat.

Douglas Ross’ uncontested election sends all the wrong signals to voters. He won’t even be able to stand up at Holyrood and take on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. That job will fall to former leader Ruth Davidson – but she has already announced that she’ll leave the parliament to take her place at the House of Lords after the election.

This isn’t a party that is taking this seriously. Some might quibble with the proposition that there is a lot of real quality in the Conservative and Labour ranks but what does exist is safely ensconced at Westminster not leading the charge up in Scotland.

If you thought that the consistent polling showing independence with a clear lead would have motivated Unionists to fight tooth and nail to save the UK you would be wrong.

Instead, the London-based parties are generally just going through the motions of opposition; slouching towards the break up of the UK.

Essentially all the SNP, now with a total monopoly on power in Scotland, have to do is bide their time and go for the vote at the right moment.



I doubt the history books will see the march towards independence as inevitable, however. The truth is that if they were bothered to take their fingers out, pull their socks up and put up a proper fight against it, the London-based parties probably could stop Scottish independence.

A total of 63 countries have gained their independence from the UK but only three of those ever won a public referendum on it.

Despite the history of independence movements often being written as popular uprisings such break-aways are actually in the minority. It is usually a small political middle-class that pushes for independence and the ‘will of the people’ narrative is constructed afterwards.

This is because getting the population of a country to vote for such an upheaval is a very difficult thing to pull off and quite an easy thing to dissuade them from doing.

That a majority in Scotland now feel all the uncertainties of independence are worth it to escape from Westminster is a symptom of the larger malady that has pushed Scotland to this point in the first place and is slowly pushing Wales in the same direction.

Subsequent UK Governments just haven’t done anything to impress on the people of these two countries that they really give much of a fig what they think.

Even in Wales, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that really think that Westminster does a great job of running our country. All the opposition essentially amounts to ‘yes they don’t really care but it’s better than the alternative’.

If you threaten to leave an uninterested partner and they don’t even lift their eyes from what they’re doing to try and talk you out of it that is going to strengthen your resolve.

For Scotland, the election of Douglas Ross MP as Conservative leader is a big shrug of the shoulders from Westminster. ‘No we don’t want you to become independent – but we’re not really bothered to do anything much about it.’

A recent poll showing that half of the Conservative supporters in England do not want to save the union of the United Kingdom was particularly telling in that regard.

In Wales, too, it feels like the only thing YesCymru really has to fear is that all-too-Welsh spectre of the internal implosion.

The movement knows that if it can get its bandwagon going at speed it won’t face any real organised political opposition from Westminster-based parties.

Because when it comes to the crunch and a test of who wants it most, events in Scotland have shown us that one side just doesn’t really care that much.

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