by Colin Campbell
TWO new opinion polls on Thursday revealed a continued downward trend in support for independence, now consistently below 50 per cent. They are the fourth and fifth in a row to confirm a steady fall in backing for breaking up the UK, with support for the Union now enjoying a two to four point lead.
They also revealed the SNP could fail to win a majority in the Scottish Parliamentary election in May.
It is a massive turnaround from polling two months ago which at its peak showed 58 per cent backing for independence and an overwhelming majority for the SNP in May.
Yesterday the National newspaper, in response, presented an article headed: “Why independence backers shouldn’t be disheartened by new opinion polls.”
But it failed to comfort its distinctly disheartened readers, who gave vent to an online outpouring of fury, frustration, bile and bitterness over evaporating support for independence.
The turnaround in support among the majority of people may be strongly attributed to the success of the vaccination programme, with more than a third of the population having received the first dose, and over a million of the most vulnerable people having secured the second dose. Tens of millions of vaccine doses were secured because of the foresight and financial muscle of the UK Government, and the vaccination programme is far advanced on that of any other country in Europe, and second in the world only to Israel.
The polls come just eight weeks before the Scottish Parliamentary elections, at a time when the SNP are fighting accusations of sleaze on two fronts.
Two thirds of people believe Nicola Sturgeon has not been honest in the Alex Salmond affair. A Holyrood inquiry is underway into the SNP Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, which it admitted had been unlawful. The former first minister was cleared of a number of sex charges after a High Court trial.
And at Westminster the holier than thou SNP MPs who like to present themselves as paragons of virtue in an English snakepit they can’t wait to get out of have been rocked by a growing scandal over allegations of drunken sexual harassment involving two of their members. An inquiry is also underway into that.
The sleaze problem may have tipped the balance against the SNP.
But in the build-up to it there were other reasons for voters to turn against a party which until very recently on a daily basis exuded triumphalist arrogance.
The May elections, they boasted, were a foregone conclusion in which they’d emerge with an overwhelming majority. Then it would be straight on to another independence referendum.
Keith Brown, deputy leader of the SNP, declared almost on a daily basis that independence was now the “settled will of the Scottish people”, and was now entirely “inevitable”.
It was the mantra of a party which took voters for granted and thought they could get away with anything.
Ross MP and Westminster leader Ian Blackford, the least edifying face of the SNP, regularly bellowed that there will be a referendum held in 2021, as if he could turn that into a reality through decibel levels alone.
Blackford, who claims to be “a simple 10 acres crofter”, raked in £256,000 in expenses in one year from a Westminster system he claims he wants to destroy. While he rails against the callous, heartless Tories, last year he was photographed beaming as he bought his wife a luxury new Range Rover at an Inverness car showroom.
He is the arrogant, overfed face of a party which now takes the public and the voters for granted and thinks it can get away with anything.
His 2021 referendum claim was echoed by Mike Russell, a long term zealot with an obsession about independence who has failed to do the hard work of coming up with answers on the most basic questions, such as the currency an independent Scotland would use, the impact on mortgages and pensions, the impact of the loss of the extra £2,000 per head public spending Scotland gets compared with England, or on rejoining the EU, and the inevitability of a hard, passport controlled border with England that that would bring.
Russell thought it was enough to take to the airwaves and proclaim the certainty of another referendum, without the need to convincingly answer any of these questions.
Again, he has been the grievance-ridden face of a party that now thinks it can get away with anything.
Even Inverness MP Drew Hendry got in on the act when it came to forgetting basic humility. Hendry, an ex-councillor and formerly chairman of the parks paths and railings committee or some such, reinvented himself as a multibillion pound financial expert.
When objective professors from the London School of Economics presented a report, after months of research, stating that independence would lead to the equivalent of a wage cut of between £2,000 and £2,800 per person, he felt able to take to the airwaves within hours to denounce it. The ex-councillor, inevitably, was wholly unconvincing and out of his depth on the broadcast.
But the sheer audacity of his challenge was typical of a party so complacent about their supremacy that they thought it could put up any risibly uninformed windbag to bluster against the diligent academics of the LSE. They thought they could get away with anything.
But each and every one of them took their lead from Nicola Sturgeon, who, at the height of the pandemic declared she would hold an illegal referendum if necessary. Her level of irresponsibility was shocking at a time when she should have been focused on nothing but the vaccine and the virus. Sturgeon revealed then that her real focus is on independence, virus or no virus. No other western country has a leader who has made such a brazen commitment to plunging a nation into turmoil and division at the height of the worst health crisis in a century.
Sturgeon made her scowling threat at the height of SNP triumphalist arrogance when they thought they could get away with anything.
Now the realisation should be dawning on them that they can’t.