AS I SEE IT: The Scottish nationalists are succeeding because their opponents cannot land a blow on a weakened government, says TERRY MURDEN
Another week, another survey on independence, and once again this latest Panelbase poll for the Business for Scotland group suggests the ultimate prize is moving ever closer.
BfS may be an indy-supporting outfit, but this is the sixth survey since June to deliver a similar outcome – 52%, 54%, 54%, 53%, 54%, and 55% for the latest test of opinion.
There is now understandable excitement, not only of momentum gathering towards glorious victory, but of an inevitability in the outcome that is sweeping aside all talk of defeat.
Perhaps surprisingly is that not much of this surge in support for independence is a result of the SNP’s own endeavours. Indeed, it has barely had to mention a policy statement that would encourage anyone to back separation.
The key driver now is not the SNP’s credentials or persuasive arguments over Scotland’s ability to run its own affairs; it is the calamitous failings of the political forces that should be opposing the nationalists: an unwanted Brexit, a deeply unpopular Prime Minister, a weakened Labour party, and a perception that the pandemic is being badly handled by Westminster. They have conspired to create the perfect storm. Independence offers the ideal escape route from this chaos which has helped conceal the shortcomings in the SNP-led government.
Its record is not exactly glowing: on health and education – with the recent crisis over exam grading almost precipitating a Cabinet resignation. The economy is badly lagging the UK, with weak productivity, rising unemployment and Scotland playing catch up with the rest of the UK, according to the latest NatWest RBS Regional PMI survey.
The governing party should be there for the taking. Instead, there is a belief on the government benches that ministers can see off any and all attacks.
The SNP has seen its former totem Alex Salmond dragged through the courts and its current leader’s integrity questioned by an inquiry into its handling of complaints against Mr Salmond. Yet the opposition is failing to land any damaging blows on Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet. It has even stopped teasing the party over its former reliance on oil to underpin the economy.
There is barely any government going on, as such, with the legislature now devoted almost entirely to controlling the pandemic. Not only do the other parties feel obliged to unite behind fighting the virus, but this single issue programme means there is little else for them to oppose. Even the exams debacle and the struggling economy are rooted in the pandemic.
An indication of the opposition’s failure to burst the nationalists’ bubble is how much it is troubling their own respective leaders. Already Jackson Carlaw has resigned as head of the Tories, admitting he is not the man to lead the unionist campaign. Richard Leonard, his Labour counterpart, is facing calls from within his own party to stand down.
Mr Leonard has said he has no intention of resigning and will be making a statement on Friday about the next stage in the party’s strategy.
Don’t expect any change of policy on Labour’s position on independence, and don’t expect the nationalists to feel particularly worried about a renewed rallying cry for the union.
Mr Leonard and his unlikely ally – the new right wing Tory leader Douglas Ross – are running out of time and out of arguments.