The “biggest ever political listening exercise” to gauge public support for a second independence referendum Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced on Friday is really an admission of weakness.
Sturgeon, who heads the separatist Scottish National Party, said the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in a referendum this summer will have “a deep impact on our ambition for this country.”
“The UK that existed before June 23 has fundamentally changed,” she told a party gathering in Stirling.
Whereas a majority of English and Welsh voters opted to leave the EU, a majority of Scots voted to stay in. They feel they’re now being taken out of the 28-nation bloc against their will.
Yet Sturgeon has balked at calling for a second Scottish independence referendum outright.
Still no majority
The nationalists lost the first one, in 2014, when 55 percent of Scots voted against breaking away from the United Kingdom.
Surveys taken since the EU referendum in June suggest a plurality of Scots would now vote to secede after all. But support for independence has yet to top 50 percent.
So Sturgeon must tread carefully.
The main argument against independence from the unionists is that Scotland’s economy is more dependent on the rest of the United Kingdom than it is on Europe.
Current conditions bear that out. Falling oil prices have pushed up the regional government’s deficit to 9.5 percent, double that of Britain as a whole, belying the SNP’s rosy predictions of a petroleum-fueled future outside the UK.
But if “Brexit” goes badly and the Scottish economy suffers (more) as a result, the mood could very well shift in favor of independence.
Sturgeon’s “listening exercise,” which will see tens of thousands of SNP activists go door-to-door, is a way of keeping the debate alive until that happens.