On 31 January last year everything changed. On that date – the one when Scotland was officially dragged out of the EU because it was in the UK, despite the SNP’s repeated pronouncements that such a thing would not happen – sane people finally woke up and realised that Nicola Sturgeon had no plan to secure independence.
Almost a year later, a shrinking rump of less-sane people are still clinging desperately to a variety of irrational beliefs (there’s still a secret genius strategy waiting to be unveiled and we simply can’t give away our hand yet; Boris Johnson is an honourable democrat and will cave in if the SNP get a majority in May’s election; magic pixies on unicorns will descend from the heavens and grant Scotland its freedom), but most of us have now realised that 31 January 2021 will be just as pivotal as 31 January 2020.
Because an awful lot of stuff is about to happen in a hurry.
One thing has already happened, of course: the UK exited the transition period and actually properly left the EU, with a last minute wafer-thin trade deal which is only really fit for one purpose – allowing the UK media to trumpet that Boris got his deal and is the Churchillian saviour of the nation.
It’s not a line that stands up to even the tiniest amount of scrutiny, but that’s not a problem for those punting it because the average voter doesn’t indulge in “scrutiny”. The TV news tells them what the papers say and that’s about as close as they bother to look because they’ve got lives to be getting on with, lives which will for most people only be affected in small ways which are difficult to notice or become alarmed about individually. It takes the media to join the dots and paint the big picture, but the media isn’t interested in that when there are trivial Twitter spats to fill space cheaply with.
(As this site has pointed out for its entire existence, broadcast media unjustifiably amplifying the voices of foreign-billionaire-owned newspapers that roughly 95% of the population doesn’t buy is the core problem at the heart of politics in the UK. Every national newspaper put together comes to about 5m sales a day in a country of 65m people – just 5% – yet the BBC runs countless “paper reviews” on TV, radio and online every day, forcing them into the consciousness of non-buyers and allowing them to set the political agenda while excluding any other kinds of voices.)
It’ll be interesting to see how the avoidance of a no-deal Brexit impacts on poll support for independence. We suspect Nicola Sturgeon will be quite worried, and praying that polling is now so consistently Yes that it’s become ingrained as the new normal. If even a few soft-Yes remainers have had their worst fears assuaged by the deal, support will sag back towards 50-50 and the chance to act will have been lost.
(For her part, Sturgeon is parroting the exact same useless line as she was a year ago. But in so far as the UK has a constitution at all, it amounts to “what Westminster says goes”, and with a 12:1 majority in the Commons against a second indyref, in practice that means no route at all.)
But post-deal polling is only one of the things that’ll happen this month. The second half of January 2021 is when it’s all really going to kick off, as both Alex Salmond and Sturgeon herself appear in front of the obstruction-plagued Holyrood inquiry in the space of eight days, a week and a bit which will also see the trial of Craig Murray in relation to the same subject, and the hearing of Martin Keatings’ case over Section 30 powers in the Court Of Session.
The Murray trial and the Keatings case may not have come to a conclusion by the 31st, for one reason or another. But events at both, and what happens at the inquiry, will give us very strong indications about where we’re going in the four months running up to the election.
This site has made its position clear enough since last January, and we’re not going to rehash all the arguments again. Our view is that if Nicola Sturgeon leads the SNP into that election, any hope of independence is dead until at least 2028.
(Because any significant democratic event will have been kicked down the road until the next election in 2026, and that’ll only be the beginning of the process. The UK took four and a half years to be meaningfully out of the EU after voting for it, and that was with the EU’s cooperation. Scotland has a big negotiating advantage, in that unlike the UK with the EU it actually has some significant leverage, but it’ll still take a while if the UK didn’t accept the process beforehand.)
There is a vast universe of difference between Scotland’s newly-elected First Minister being sent to Westminster on 7 May with a mandate to beg for a referendum yet again (a position which clearly implies Westminster’s right to refuse), and them being sent to Westminster with an unequivocal, internationally-recognisable democratic mandate to negotiate the terms of independence.
If, on the other hand, events this month should make it clear that Sturgeon’s position is untenable, then five criminally wasted years will be over and it’s game on.
The last 12 months, with the coronavirus pandemic providing a convenient excuse for inaction, have been painfully frustrating for independence campaigners, and the effects of the virus are still with us. But the Scottish Government has finally just about run out of stalling time with the Salmond inquiry, and no amount of COVID-19 can stop it from running its course. One way or another, something’s going to happen in the next few weeks and we’ll all have some idea of where we stand.
We have no idea whether that outcome will be good or bad. Things we learned last month in relation to the inquiry were deeply disturbing. But either way we’ll know, and it’s the waiting that’s unbearable.