Whilst down in Westminster the Prime Minister prevaricated over a new traffic light system to counter coronavirus, north of the border Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took assertive action this week by announcing new restrictions on pubs and restaurants in Scotland. It seems that despite the fact Scots aren’t faring much better than England – coronavirus cases are now rising in a similar fashion to the North, whilst during the first wave care homes were hit equally hard and on excess mortality Scotland had the second highest rate in Europe behind England – Sturgeon is seemingly winning the communications battle.
Having continued with her daily televised briefings throughout the pandemic, she has maintained visibility and been able to clearly communicate the Scottish Government’s message for over six months. Comparatively, the British Government not only stopped their daily updates some weeks ago, but even then we were lucky to see the Prime Minister dragged to present these once a week.
By striking a realistic, matter of fact tone during her daily address, the Scottish leader has rarely made promises she’s subsequently had to revoke. This cannot be said for the U-turns that have dogged Westminster – from promising the creation of a ‘world leading’ track and trace system to a commitment to mass testing, the Government has been forced to backtrack countless times. Even when Sturgeon has been forced to change her tune – most notably over exam results – her decisive U-turning compared to Gavin Williamson’s dithering meant that consequentially she managed to escape much of the flack reserved for the Education Secretary.
A new surge for independence is now underway, led not by the transformation of the economics of the North Sea, or a deal offered by the EU to Scots – but perceptions as to Holyrood and Westminster’s competency in the handling of Covid-19. Scottish independence has now been in the majority since March, with every opinion poll conducted during the Summer showing more Scots in favour of leaving the UK than remaining. A poll conducted by Survation in September found that 46 per cent of respondents support independence, versus 40 per cent for the union.
With Scottish Parliament elections set for next May, polling already suggests that Sturgeon’s SNP is set to sweep seats in Holyrood. Whilst the Prime Minister took aim at nationalists during this week’s Conservative Party Conference, telling his virtual audience “to those separatist Scottish nationalists who would like this country to be distracted and divided by yet more constitutional wrangling, now is the time to pull together and build back better in every part of the United Kingdom”, there is no doubt that nationalists now see this as their opportunity. Sturgeon still faces hurdles, most notably her handling of sexual harassment claims surrounding former SNP leader and mentor Alex Salmond, but should the SNP win a majority of seats next year, it will become increasingly untenable for Boris Johnson to deny a bolstered Sturgeon the indyref2 she so desires.