The SNP comes undone

Nicola Sturgeon's TV interview this week highlighted her irrational and divisive politics.

Rob Lyons


Everybody loves Oor Nicola, otherwise known as Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland. She may be wee, but she’s smart and passionate. And when I say popular, I mean especially with left-leaning liberals who don’t actually live in Scotland. Those of us who do live in Scotland, on the other hand, have to tolerate her divisive politics and illiberal policies.

For those who think Sturgeon wears a halo, her General Election interview with Andrew Neil this week was hopefully an eye-opener. Her whole political message can be summed up in the idea that an independent Scotland would be wealthier, happier and run better in the interests of ordinary Scots than if Scotland stayed in the UK. The interview demonstrated that this isn’t true.

The idea that a separate Scotland would be some kind of nirvana certainly wasn’t a view shared by Scots in September 2014 when, on a massive turnout of 84.6 per cent, they voted by 55-45 to remain part of the UK. That is, they voted to stay part of the Union, having a democratic say in the making of UK laws and accepting the results of UK-wide votes. The SNP’s ‘once in a generation’ vote went against them. The referendum campaign was long and divisive. The one ray of light was that whatever the result, it would be accepted by everyone and Scotland could move on.

But the SNP didn’t give up on the idea of independence. That would be like a shark giving up on swimming – it would be dead in the water. Instead, the SNP adopted a policy in its manifesto for the May 2016 Scottish Parliament elections that there would be another referendum ‘if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will’.

On a much lower turnout than in the independence referendum (just under 56 per cent), the SNP’s new policy proved such a hit with voters that the party lost its overall majority at Holyrood and its minority government is now propped up by the Scottish Greens, who are also in favour of another independence referendum.

So it was no surprise that when the UK voted to leave the EU, but Scotland voted two-to-one for remaining, the SNP brought up the issue of another referendum. This was the ‘material change’ that Sturgeon and Co had been waiting for. All that was needed now was the approval of the UK government.

But as the Andrew Neil interview demonstrated, things are not so simple for the SNP. Clearly, the SNP would like Scotland to stay in the EU. So would the SNP prop up a minority Labour government in Westminster, with the prospect of a second EU referendum, even if Jeremy Corbyn refused to offer another referendum on Scottish independence? Sturgeon couldn’t say, it would all be about negotiations and leverage.

Neil then probed the basis for another Scottish referendum. Brexit would be the ‘material change’ that the SNP wanted and it could therefore be argued that there was a mandate for ‘indyref2’. But what if the UK didn’t leave the EU? Since opinion polls have only rarely shown a majority for Scottish independence since the original vote, it could hardly be said there was clear support for another referendum. Ironically, if the SNP helped Labour or the Lib Dems to reverse Brexit, it would be taking away the mandate for its real goal – another independence referendum. The response was more bluster from Sturgeon.

Then Neil asked about how independence might work. Back in 2014, things were complicated enough, but at least Scotland and the rest of the UK would all be in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union. If Brexit does happen, followed by an independent Scotland rejoining the EU, then Scotland would face customs checks with its biggest trading partner, the UK. There might even be questions about free movement across the Scottish border. Sturgeon has claimed that Brexit could cost 80,000 Scottish jobs. How many more would be lost if there were trade frictions with the UK? Sturgeon seemed lost, unable to provide a coherent answer.

The complications for an independent Scotland after Brexit came thick and fast from Neil. What would the currency be? Would Scotland join the Euro? How could Scotland create its own stable currency – a precondition for joining the EU – when it is currently running the biggest government deficit in Europe? Throwing points from the SNP’s own Growth Commission at her, Neil showed that Sturgeon really didn’t have a sensible, worked-out plan. When Neil asked her if any final deal to join the EU would be put to the people of Scotland, and Sturgeon hypocritically indicated that it would not, you just had to laugh.

Just to put the tin lid on this debacle, Neil then went after the SNP’s actual record in government. Far from being a model of how an independent Scotland could be run, the SNP governments (continuous since 2007) have a record on health, education and policing that is every bit as bad, if not worse, than administrations elsewhere in the UK. That’s despite the fact that the Barnett Formula means central government gives more money per head of population to Scotland than to England and Wales.

In short, this is a Catch-22. The SNP has no mandate for another independence referendum unless Brexit actually happens. But if Brexit happens, the case for independence becomes much harder to make. And for what? So that Scotland can be run by middle-class, sub-Blairite, less-than-competent, illiberal technocrats in Edinburgh rather than no-mark politicians in Westminster? It’s not exactly Braveheart, is it?

The only silver lining for Sturgeon after that car-crash of an interview? The fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s interview the following night was so jaw-droppingly awful that her own nightmare might be forgotten.

Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Nick Boorman

3rd December 2019 at 6:13 am

There should be a referendum asking the English if they wish to continue send money to Scotland when there are plenty of depressed areas of Norther England that could do with the cash!

James Blunt

1st December 2019 at 12:49 pm

As an Englishman I find it sad that anti independence Scots won’t tolerate future referendums on the subject, just because a politician (you know – the born again liars) implied they wouldn’t or because you don’t want one.
If the SNP want to hold an independence vote every year, that’s up to them – your opinion is irrelevant. If they get lambasted by the public for doing so, they will presumably be punished in the polls. If they don’t, and independence is voted for, that is commonly known as democracy. Isn’t that what you’re claiming to want? Or is it like free speech – only OK if you agree with it :/

Fred Mutton

29th November 2019 at 5:13 pm

Red Jeremy has no mandate to reverse Brexit. He would be toast in England he would have to take his brown envelope stuffed with Euros to some place more comfortable. Siberia.

Marvin Jones

28th November 2019 at 2:01 pm

Very odd and FISHY, this pair Sturgeon and Salmond. Seriously, they trade with the UK is so much more that with the EU, they want freedom and independence from us, but want to be shackled to the EU, there are no guarantees about their currency or eligibility to be allowed to join, besides haggis and sporrans are not going to be enough. As well, what are the numbers of Scots who have made their lives in England since Rob Roy was a baby. SO! why do they hate us so much?

Fred Mutton

29th November 2019 at 5:15 pm

If they cannot respect the nationwide referendum why should we let them honour a Scottish one.
Oh! I forgot we English would insist they honour that one.

Eric Blair

28th November 2019 at 1:12 pm

“The party lost its overall majority at Holyrood and its minority government is now propped up by the Scottish Greens”. The SNP vote share was about the same as that for the Labour Party, Conservative Party, Liberal-Democrats and Greens combined. It is only the Additional Member system used at Holyrood (designed to prevent majority rule), that allows the writer to say this.

Alexander van der Meer

28th November 2019 at 12:33 am

As an outsider, this is what escapes me: “But if Brexit happens, the case for independence becomes much harder to make.” Isn’t it the other way around: if Brexit vanishes, then a second referendum for independence will most probably be lost. So what does the SNP have to do, campaign against Brexit and shoot its own foot? Or quietly hope for Brexit and then leave the UK to rejoin the EU? And another question if I may: why is nationalism in general always bad for the woke crowd, but not so Scottish nationalism?

Ed Turnbull

28th November 2019 at 9:41 am

And not just Scottish nationalism – Welsh and Irish nationalism too. Also black nationalism, the woke seem quite keen on that. This apparent intellectual inconsistency is quite easily explained when one recognises that the woke / the progressives / call ’em what you will view the entire world through the lens of oppressor vs oppressed. Thus nationalism by an ‘oppressor’ (the English, or the Hindus for example) = bad, whereas nationalism on the part of the ‘oppressed’ (e.g. Scots, Irish, blacks etc) = doubleplusgood.

That their oppressor / oppressed world view is utterly bogus is something you’ll never get them to admit. The woke are lost.

Jim Lawrie

27th November 2019 at 5:59 pm

I don’t know anyone who has a good word for her.

The chalk and cheese, bald facts are that 2,001,926 voted to stay in the UK and 1,661,191 voted to stay in The EU. How the latter trumps the former and becomes a mandate for IndyRef2 I cannot see.

SNP support is on the wane as The Brexit vote turns to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (formerly called The Unionist Party).

Sturgeon has seen ever dwindling numbers of voters put a tick next to her Party.

Winston Stanley

27th November 2019 at 6:43 pm

Jim, you ought to have your own comic strip.

No one is claiming that the result of the previous referendum provides a mandate for another. What a ridiculous things to say. Maybe the result of the last GE provides no mandate for any future GE. You really do not care how outright silly your arguments are.

The mandate for a future independence referendum lies in principle on the prerogative of Scotland to determine its own future, and the occassion depends on a desire of the ppl of Scotland to exercise that prerogative when and as they see fit.

Polls put independence on a knife-edge and most Scots now favour a referendum within the next few years. Indeed the SNP has won successive elections since Indy1 on a platform of independence and another referendum. Their share of the vote is not declining, it is increasing and they are expected to pick up more MPs.

Thanks for the laugh Jim but we expect better.

Neil McCaughan

27th November 2019 at 8:52 pm

Sententious tripe, the only recognizable product of you SNP dupes.

The country voted against the SNP’s lies in 2014, and unless and until the SNP can demonstrate at the ballot box that there is a clear appetite for a re-run, there won’t be one. We are all bored with the subject, bored with sturgeon’s yapping, and bored with the nationalists ‘ comprehensive failure in government.

And now, let’s hear from sturgeon why she covered up for salmond’s behaviour over so many years.

Jim Lawrie

27th November 2019 at 11:08 pm

Winston, you mock at me, and confirm the old proverb “empty heads make most noise.” Read the article and familiarise yourself with SNP dogma. The latter should only take about five minutes, even for you.
They have been saying since 24/06/16 that they have a mandate for IndyRef2. Have you noticed how, as I predicted, they are slipping in the polls and The Conservatives are rising. “The Brexit vote will damage The SNP” is what I said.

The basis of any discussion is a grasp of the facts, and you do not have that.

Last opinion poll before the 2014 referendum put – No at 50, Yes at 45, don’t know at 5.
The latest current opinion poll, Nov 2019, places – No at 47, Yes at 45, don’t know at 7.
I have you in the don’t know anything column.

Winston Stanley

27th November 2019 at 5:43 pm

Well, the TP is being very silly, Alex Salmond gave his opinion that Indy1 was a once in a generation opportunity. So what? It was his opinion at the time. He was in no way making some treaty on behalf of the Scottish ppl and indeed he was in no position to do so. He went on to say that further elections could provide a mandate for a further referendum.

The partisan dishonesty that is on full display in British politics is not something to celebrate, it is the complete opposite of the sort of political culture that we want to nurture. There is so much wrong with this country that we need to be honest about it, not to get sucked into two-party or even unionist loyalties.

Scots are fully aware of the nonsense that TP is coming out with about “once in a generation” and frankly it does Westminster and the union no favours. Who wants a union with a Westminster based on lies and on the denial of democracy? There can be no union without consent and that mentality is practically designed to undermine consent.

Scotland likely will go independent and the TP will simply have to deal with that, it is not their decision to make, it is prerogative of the Scottish people themselves.

Dominic Straiton

27th November 2019 at 5:05 pm

The Scotts are a pathetic bunch of never ending whingers. I know exactly how the Aussies view the whinging poms.The union produced the British Empire that the Scotts were in the very forefront. With that long gone there is no real reason for a union. England will be much better off without this millstone. Lets have a nationwide referendum. The result will be to boot out Scotland from the union. They can become a forgotten backwater of the eu imperial empire. Good riddance. Most of my blood is Scotts.


27th November 2019 at 6:17 pm

I cannot of course agree that the ‘Scots are a pathetic bunch of never ending whingers’. The SNP come across as a ‘pathetic bunch of never ending whingers’ and it is sad to learn how badly their administration is failing Scotland. But all the time that the UK lives under the current constitutional settlement, with Scots MPs able to influence England’s domestic affairs but not vice versa they have no incentive to do better. At present, Westminster and ‘the English’ can be blamed for Scotland’s failings and weaknesses, England’s problems can’t be blamed on Holyrood and the Scots.

However, I will make a prediction (acknowledging that it’s always a foolish thing to do). If the SNP continue to do what they can to frustrate the English desire to be free of the EU we will – in time – see the emergence of an English nationalist political movement / party that will want nothing to do with the Union. That would be bad news for Scotland and very bad news for the SNP.

Janet Mozelewski

27th November 2019 at 8:17 pm

they remind me forcibly of perpetual teens and twenty-somethings who moan about still being at home …while enjoying all the benefits. I well remember my young man saying that to me in a tantrum.He threatened to leave. And i said…..
OK then.
In fact he knew I meant it and that voting leave would mean leave. (i always thing that lol!)
It’s time to call their bluff. It’s time to say…Okay. I think you;d better leave…rather than asking them what they want. because it is all one-sided at present and is making them spoilt brats.
I remember once hearing Salmond say that the Scots could vote for Indy…see how it went and if it didn’t work out there would be nothing to stop them going back to the union. As if the Uk would be like fond parents eager to see little Alex and his bag of dirty laundry and unpaid bills. Nope.

Davy Hayes

27th November 2019 at 4:46 pm

Good to see the Scottish Conservatives holding the SNP to their 2014 talk of a “once in a generation event” So no referendum until 2054….


27th November 2019 at 4:46 pm

I recollect – some years ago – seeing opinion data that indicated that the Scots who are keenest on independence are more likely to be in favour of leaving the EU than their Unionist bretheren. It would be of interest to know whether or not that is still the case. It would certainly be logical, as if there is no true independence for Scotland within the UK there certainly wouldn’t be as an ‘independent’ country within the EU. The EU just doesn’t do democratic independence. It does all it can to crush the independent government of any country that falls into its jurisdiction. As it is, viewed from south of the border, the SNP seems more like an anti-English lobby rather than a true, principled, independence movement. The really big issue is of course currency. Without its own currency, guaranteed by its own national bank, Scotland could no more be genuinely independent than Greece or the Republic of Ireland is today.

Jamie G

27th November 2019 at 4:29 pm

Bad journalism. Totally ignoring the fact that 2 days prior to that interview (where se was barely aloud a breath to speak) she roasted the UK leaders in a TV debate. Ps; the SNP will get a majority in Scotland. What does that tell you.

Jane 70

27th November 2019 at 4:23 pm

O to be rid of Sturgeon and her delusions. She now seems to see herself as Kingmaker in an unholy and risible alliance with Corbyn.

Many of us are hoping that tactical voting will reduce the SNP’s dominance; time will tell.

They’ve caused rancorous divisions and the posturing pieties have gone past their sell by date.

As an implacable foe of the Nats, I cannot understand the carping sense of grievance, nor the frankly illogical desire to break up the UK, all in the cause of independence, while throwing in their lot with the EU empire, ostensibly to promote independence.

As to monetary and economic policies: mad hatter’s tea party stuff.

George Orwell

27th November 2019 at 3:20 pm

I was tempted to just let them go and good riddance but on reflection, given a 10% majority to continue the Union on a turnout of nearly 85%, that would be a betrayal of the majority, many of whom who dragged themselves out to vote on the basis that it was a once in a generation decision.
Nor would I wish upon them the utter incompetence of a SNP government in league with irrational, authoritarian Greens who would plaster the lochs, moors, mountains and seascapes with wildlife massacring armies of wind and solar farms.
And to top it all, there is now evidence that the so called greenhouse effect is a product not of greenhouse gases but rather of atmospheric mass being convected up and down within a gravitational field so that our emissions are actually a net benefit to the natural world by enhancing vegetation growth even if they, rather than other natural causes, are causing the rise in atmospheric CO2 content.

Jim Lawrie

27th November 2019 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for that post. It is important that we all rally round the principle that a referendum majority must be respected. The SNP have tampered once with the franchise and will do so again.
The SNP have extended their term by a year to 2021 because they think us plebs cannot handle 2 votes in one year in 2020. Yet here they are calling for 2 referendums next year.

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