Support for Scottish independence is growing, in part due to the UK’s response to COVID-19: NPR

Supporters of Scottish independence gather at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn in August in Bannockburn, Scotland. The site is where the army of King of Scots Robert the Pruss defeated the army of King Edward II of England in 1314, during the First War for Scottish Independence.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images


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Supporters of Scottish independence gather at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn in August in Bannockburn, Scotland. The site is where the army of King of Scots Robert the Pruss defeated the army of King Edward II of England in 1314, during the First War for Scottish Independence.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

In the Scottish National Party recently Annual conferenceScotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said she was “never certain that Scotland would become an independent country.”

Who do we want to be in the driver’s seat to shape the future of Scotland? She asked. “The Scottish government didn’t get everything right, far from that. But I doubt there were many people in Scotland who would have wanted Westminster to be more responsible for our response to the pandemic.”

Sturgeon was referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach to the coronavirus, which included a failed testing plan and frequent policy shifts. With more than 63,000 The number of deaths, the UK has the highest toll in Europe.

Johnson’s performance is one of the last reasons 15 surveys He showed that – for the first time – most Scots continually support leaving the UK. Poll in October It found that 58% of potential voters support independent Scotland. This is a major shift from 2014, when voters easily defeated the referendum on independence by 55% to 45%.

As regional parliamentary elections approach in May, Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party is fighting on the platform of a second independence referendum. If the party did well – As expected – These results will be announced as a mandate and pressure the British government to hold a second vote.

Johnson dismissed the idea again and again. He says Scotland already had its chance in 2014 and the UK must unite to fight the pandemic.

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Frankly, this is not a moment of division or of diverting attention from our national constitution. ” Johnson He said early this fall. “In order to tackle the common, common thread that is COVID-19, the focus on disconnect must stop.”

Scotland and England have a long and bitter history and have fought dozens of battles over the centuries. Scotland finally joined England in 1707, partly to take advantage of its colonial expansion. But some economic logic led to the relationship’s fading out in the twentieth century, after Britain lost its empire in the aftermath of World War II.

Historian Fiona Watson says: “You are starting to see the economic benefits of the union becoming less apparent at a time when the British state was stepping in.” “These things combined to see the beginnings of, I think, Scottish political nationalism.”

With many disappointed with the UK’s response to COVID-19, that nationalism is strengthening.

Distrust of Boris Johnson

Since April, when the UK was in its first lockdown for a few weeks, Johnson has generally been Approval classification It decreased from 66% to 34%, according to YouGov Poll.

Johnson is a populist cheerleader. Many of his critics say he does not focus on details. Many Scots and others in the UK believe it is ill-equipped to handle the pandemic. Johnson fell seriously ill in the spring, just weeks after visiting coronavirus patients in hospital, where he bragged about it He shook hands with “everyone.”

“He’s a clown,” says Sandy Comfort, a retired attorney in Kingsuse, a town in the Scottish Highlands. “Totally from its depths. It’s only in him for strength only.”

Farzana Haq, a pharmacist who lives in Dunfermline, northwestern Edinburgh, thinks Johnson is a hypocrite. She cites the prime minister’s refusal to dismiss Dominic Cummings, his then chief advisor, afterwards He drove Cummings across England While infected with COVID-19 in March, in violation of the national lockdown.

“We were following the rules here,” says Haq, who voted against independence in 2014, but says she will vote for her if she gets another chance. “It was heartbreaking for a lot of people when they learned that they could jump in the car and drive to their parent’s house.”

Last month, Johnson finally took Cummings out for other reasons, but the damage to the public’s confidence is done.

While many Scots criticize Johnson, they have a more favorable opinion of sturgeon, the leading voice for independence. At Ipsos-MORI vote Last month, 74% said sturgeon handled the epidemic well, while 62% thought Johnson handled it poorly.

Under sturgeon rule, Scotland made mistakes during the crisis. For example, Scottish hospitals have relocated dozens of COVID-19 is positive Patients have returned to nursing homes, already severely affected by the virus.

But many Scots, including Haq, gave sturgeon high marks for what they said was a clear and transparent connection.

“She is ready to go up and stand in front of the journalists and ask questions every day, and she is ready to raise her hands when there is a mistake,” says Haq.

The Brexit factor

Concerns about Johnson’s handling of the pandemic are just the latest driving factor in support of Scottish independence. Another is Brexit, an issue that has dominated British politics for the past four and a half years.

Many in Scotland feel betrayed by Johnson, the Brexit head of state, and his conservative party.

Take, for example, John Craig, who directs the Students’ Union at the Royal Institute of Scotland in Glasgow. The 24-year-old saxophonist Alto voted to stay in the UK in 2014. He opposed independence because it would have meant leaving the European Union and all the educational opportunities and rich performances it provided to musicians like him.

Anti-independence activists have assured voters in Scotland that the UK will not hold a nationwide referendum on EU membership. But just two years later, in 2016, the UK did just that.

Almost two-thirds of Scots voted to remain in the European Union. But England – which has a population of 11 times more than Scotland – supported the departure, easily outpacing its northern neighbor.

“I hate to admit that I felt cheated, but I definitely felt cheated,” says Craig.

Citing recent polls, Craig says he was angry at Johnson for refusing to even consider holding a second Scottish independence referendum.

“I feel my democratic right is trapped within my country,” says Craig. “I have the democratic right to seek Scottish independence. I feel neglected as a citizen of the United Kingdom.”

There are financial advantages to Scotland in sticking to the UK. For example, when the coronavirus struck, the United Kingdom secured an additional Scotland $ 8.5 billion In finance.

“I don’t want independence,” says Alex Jamison, a retired Glasgow police officer. “I think we’re better together. If we want to [have been] Independently when this epidemic happened, we would not have the money … to put ourselves through it. “

However, surveys show that Great Britain is under stress.

Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has voted against Brexit. in the last year , Polls I showed Solid Northern Ireland’s support for reunification with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union.

Indeed, discontent is mounting in Wales. YouGov vote In October, it was found that nearly 1 in 4 people would vote for independence for Wales, an increase of 8% since 2016.

Richard Wayne Jones, Director of the Department of Wales at Cardiff University, which focuses on nationalism and political dynamics in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. He says Brexit “throws all of that under the bus. Now everything is unstable.”

In May, political attention will focus on the Parliamentary elections in Scotland. Even if the SNP is doing well, analysts expect Johnson to continue resisting yet another referendum on independence.

But Ailsa Henderson, a professor of political science at the University of Edinburgh, wonders how long the national government in London can ignore the popular will.

“It’s very difficult to tell voters how to express yourself peacefully and democratically at the ballot box, no matter what you say, it won’t matter,” says Henderson.

NPR Producer Jessica Peck contributed to writing this story.

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