UK Politics: Why it's always a mistake to underestimate the SNP

Scottish football supporters fly their flag
Will Scotland go it alone after Brexit?
Join today View market

In a stunning display of political theatre this week, SNP MPs walked out of the House of Commons in protest at what they see as a Westminster power grab. Max Liu wonders if Brexit will help the case for Scottish independence and looks at the latest odds...

"As ever, there are signs of Tory complacency about Scotland (they simply never learn). As SNP politicians walked out of the Commons this week, they were jeered by government ministers who cried: "Bye." If the government takes Scotland for granted, it could be the Scots bidding goodbye to the UK."

As political theatre goes, the SNP's Westminster walk out this week was a masterclass. It was a carefully choreographed performance and it had its desired effect: reminding people that Scotland's future - and the future of the union - is a live issue during the Brexit debate and beyond.

SNP MPs walked out of the Commons after their leader, Ian Blackford, was expelled for refusing to sit down. Blackford argued that not enough time is being given to devolution issues connected to Brexit. This was after MPs debated Lords amendments to the EU withdrawal bill for three hours on Tuesday, with devolved issues only getting 15 minutes.

The SNP walk out was an extraordinary moment, as all 35 SNP MPs exited the chamber in protest at what they call "a power grab" by Westminster. They believe Theresa May's government is using Brexit as an opportunity to take back powers that were devolved to the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh in the 1998 Scotland Act.

A referendum on Scottish independence this year is [24.0]. Nobody believes that's going to happen, as referendums take a while to organise (the 2014 vote was planned for two years). More interesting is that, on Sportsbook, Scotland is evens to vote to leave the UK at the next independence referendum, whenever it's held.

Scottish independence - some recent history

In September 2014, when Scots voted 55-45 in favour of staying in the Union, the Westminster parties breathed a big sigh of relief. David Cameron claimed the result settled the independence debate for a generation. Privately, however, the then Prime Minister knew that the outcome of the referendum should never have been so close. Had Cameron thought the result would come down to ten percent, it's unlikely he would have allowed the referendum to take place.

Cameron's complacency about Scotland was plain for all to see, which makes it even more staggering that he was prepared to gamble Britain's future once again, in the EU in-out referendum, less than two years later.

After, Britain voted 52-48 to leave the European Union in June 2016, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that, due to Scotland voting 62-38 to Remain, she would seek another referendum on Scottish independence. But over the next year, polls showed declining levels of support for independence and the SNP's loss of a third of their Westminster seats helped to put the issue on the back-burner. Until this week.

Scottish independence - current levels of support

The SNP claim that, since Wednesday's walk out, they have signed up more than 5000 new members. That's hardly a gamechanger, although in a country with a population of 5.3 million it's a reminder that the SNP are adept at rallying support. In the 2014 referendum, bettors and Westminster politicians alike underestimated the SNP's campaigning skills and their ability to mobilise supporters.

A poll in the Scotsman this weekend, asked Scots if they were more of less likely to support independence as a result of Brexit: 33% answered More, with only 7% choosing Less. The rest remain unmoved: 34% continuing to support staying in the union and 27% in favour of leaving.

As ever, there are signs of Tory complacency about Scotland (they simply never learn). As SNP politicians walked out of the Commons this week, they were jeered by government ministers who cried: "Bye." But Conservatives should know that if they take Scotland for granted then, ultimately, it could be the Scots bidding goodbye to the UK.

Today, a reduced UK outside the EU is a possibility. It would take the SNP many years to bring about an independent Scotland inside the EU, but they are in this for the long haul and it is a dream for which they are prepared to fight. The UK government and opposition would be very foolish to underestimate their opponents from north of the border.

Join today View market

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles