If you live in Scotland, or abroad for that matter, it is hard to ever escape the constant presence of agitated nationalists when looking at Scottish politics. There is no increased tepidness to the issue of independence and rumours have been abounding that the SNP Holyrood manifesto will include a commitment to a second independence reference if London doesn’t give the Scottish Parliament a fiscal framework that the SNP administration in Edinburgh is happy with.
It’s a situation which can’t last, not least because it is fraught with several threats to actually solving Scottish issues beyond constitutional debates. By not having settled the constitutional question, many pressing issues of national importance (declining educational standards, the NHS) are being side-tracked by the ‘grander issue’. As Scotland is now only months away from Scottish Parliamentary elections it is worthwhile looking at the SNP and its support, and why the opposition parties so far have been unsuccessful in quelling the ‘yellow wave’.
The SNP has been successful in creating a narrative of ‘us and them’ – Scotland versus England. If someone living abroad just tapped into the public debate one could not blame them for thinking that most of the Scottish people would be ardent nationalists. However, this does not correspond with the facts on the ground.
Subsequent editions of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey show a clear trend. Since the advent of devolution with the (re)convening of the Scottish Parliament the percentage of people identifying themselves as ‘Scottish, not British’ has actually declined by more than 30%. A vote for the SNP is clearly not governed on the basis of national identity alone. This shows, contrary to the evident strategies – especially Scottish Labour – focusing on identity politics is not going to cut it.
Unless Scotland moves away from identity politics – which plays straight into the narrative of the SNP – the United Kingdom might soon find itself having lost its northernmost part. The Scottish Government must be held accountable by the opposition and be challenged where it fails the Scottish people. By trying to compete about who is the least Unionist (Labour) or the most (Scottish Conservatives) the narrative is in the nationalist’s ballpark. This makes it impossible to settle the constitutional debate that really was closed in September of 2014. By failing to do so, the politics of Scotland fails its people.