Scots, then, want to decide for themselves. But it doesn’t follow that they want to secede from Britain overnight.
The electorate is coming out of two referendums in quick succession, in 2014 and 2016, and four years of Brexit negotiations. Support for independence was consistently above 50 percent during most of the pandemic, largely thanks to the contrast between Ms. Sturgeon’s able handling and the bungled response by the British government. But the success of the British vaccination program, coupled with a bitter political row between Ms. Sturgeon and her predecessor as leader of the S.N.P., Alex Salmond, has eliminated that lead.
A poll this month asked the Scottish electorate if and when they thought another independence referendum should be held. Excluding those who answered “don’t know,” 33 percent said within two years, 30 percent said never, and the rest answered either 5 or 10 years’ time. The majority might, at least for the moment, prefer a break from the negotiating and campaigning that has dominated Scottish and British politics for years. Ms. Sturgeon, a formidable politician, realizes that much of the S.N.P.’s popularity reflects its image as a competent manager of Scotland’s devolved institutions, and in the latter weeks of campaigning, she tempered her independence messaging.
But sooner or later the answer to whether Scotland should be an independent country is probably going to be yes. Demographic trends, the S.N.P.’s electoral dominance of the Scottish Parliament and the depth of Scotland’s antipathy toward the British Conservative Party all place huge, long-term strains on the union’s constitutional architecture.
On its own, this election result cannot deliver a mandate for separating Scotland from Britain. Yet, assuming a new pro-independence majority takes shape at the Scottish Parliament next week, 2021 will go down as another significant milestone in the post-Brexit disintegration of the British state. And if Mr. Johnson pursues his strategy of denial, that will be viewed by many here as an admission of defeat.
The fastest and most effective way of driving undecided Scots away from the union is to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they are never allowed to leave. Ms. Sturgeon understands this. Mr. Johnson, whose main concern is not becoming the last prime minister of the United Kingdom, wants to wait and see.
Jamie Maxwell (@jamiedmaxwell) is a Scottish journalist who writes about Scotland, Britain and the independence movement.
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