Last year after the Scottish National Party won a surge of seats north of the border, their former leader Alex Salmond bellowed “the Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country”.
And yet in a BBC interview after Thursday’s SNP party conference their current leader, and First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced that even if her party achieves a “thumping win” at the next election for the Scottish Parliament, she will NOT push for a referendum on Scottish independence.
To many people this didn’t come as much of a surprise. Although the SNP now have 56 of the 59 seats their push for independence is weaker than you might think. The North Sea rigs mean that oil would make up the vast majority of an independent Scotland’s exports and account for thousands of jobs. With the recent plummet in the price per barrel it is no surprise that Mrs Sturgeon is biding her time for a referendum. This should be good for Scotland, I personally believe that it is much stronger in the union (though that is a discussion for another time) and hopefully nationalism and the sizeable support for independence (it was 45% in the referendum in September last year) will die down significantly before a viable opportunity for a referendum presents itself.
But Mrs Sturgeon has another, more cunning reason for waiting
With the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU beginning to heat up and opinion polls shifting from just 27% favouring an exit in June 2015 to 38% earlier this month, the possibility of a Brexit is becoming increasingly likely. If Britain does vote to leave, Mrs Sturgeon’s party has said they she would push for a referendum and it seems likely that she’d win it. Hopefully for the sake of the Union and the people of Britain neither of those things will happen.
The decline of the SNP, when (if ever) it happens will massively affect general elections for years to come. At the last election, the predicted rise of the SNP, among a host of other issues, severely damaged Ed Miliband’s campaign. Fear that he would be blackmailed if forced into a coalition with Mrs Sturgeon was rife; one Conservative advertisement showed Mr Miliband peering out of Alex Salmond’s pocket.
If Labour are going to get back into government anytime soon they will need those Scottish seats, but securing them is easier said than done. While Mr Miliband was branded too left wing by voters south of the border, many in Scotland (known for their more hard-line leftism) saw him as anything but.
Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn, though a self-described socialist, is unlikely to sway over SNP voters. If given a choice between two parties who will never enter into government, they are far more likely to vote for the one who will definitively represent Scotland.
But by the next election Mr Corbyn will most likely be long gone. Among the uninspiring list of potential candidates few look as though they could win back many Scottish voters to Labour.
Some have speculated that Ed Miliband’s brother David, who was surprisingly beaten by his younger sibling in the 2010 leadership election, could return when Mr Corbyn goes. But he is a clear member of “New Labour” and as such is a much more centrist politician and is therefore unlikely to win back much support from the SNP.
Another possible, Chuka Umunna, who pulled out of the last leadership election after a just three days, also seems unlikely to be able to sway many scots; his backing of Blairite Liz Kendall cemented his position at the centre of the party.
Regardless of how long the SNP remains in control of Scotland it seems as though Mr Salmond’s “Scottish lion” will have to wait. At least for the time being.