67%! This is now my favourite statistic. When I first encountered it – yesterday in the latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey – I felt an instinctive affinity with it. This statistic is going to be with me for years to come, I thought. I am going to grow old alongside this statistic. It will become my trusty vorpal blade and adversary after adversary will be impaled on this 67% – run through! – cut down! – in a prompt snicker-snack reflex. Whoosh – 67% – chop! After my corpse is borne off Twitter’s battlefield, I will be no doubt buried with it. “That 67% was always with him,” people will comment sentimentally, “faithful until the last.”
When democracy was on trial for its life prior to the EU referendum, I wrote that EU membership was fundamentally at odds with a Scottish tradition of democratic sovereignty that had run all the way from the Declaration of Arbroath to the People’s Charter (first unveiled in Glasgow) and beyond. Pollsters’ assurances that Scottish voters were simply uninterested in sovereignty would have previously sounded, I mused, “like news arriving from the Sahara that they had run out of sand.”
Following the EU referendum, regime loyalists were strenuous in maintaining that the pro-democracy movement in Scotland was nothing but an inexplicable contrarian minority. Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Scotland had voted “overwhelmingly” to Remain. Tychy then observed of the Scottish pro-Brexit vote that, “Never in UK politics has a political group been so silent, so invisible, and so under-analysed.” Tychy placed stress on the fact that, “in its supposedly unique Europhilia, Scotland had the second lowest turnout across the UK (after Northern Ireland); in Glasgow there was a 56% turnout.”
The latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey “interviewed a random probability sample of 1,237 people aged 16 and above between July and December 2016.” My favourite statistic of 67% is a composite of the 25% of this sample who wanted to “Leave the EU” and the 42% who wanted to “Stay in EU but reduce its powers.” Since, with its almost pathological contempt for democracy, the EU is never likely to voluntarily reduce its powers, the latter faction have in all practical respects announced that they wish to leave. If your EU membership is conditional upon the EU transforming itself into something else entirely, then you don’t want to be in the EU. So a majority of 67% have either voted Leave or else they want to Take Back Control.
This statistic is spectacular and it shows as much unexpected cojones as the Brexit vote itself. Since the Brexit vote, the ruling class in Scotland, along with its smug media and even smugger “alternative” media, has been trading on the idea that the English hordes are darkly racist and self-destructive, whilst Scotland is altogether daintier – altogether finer in its sensibilities – altogether wiser and more tolerant. This existential dichotomy – of Scottish classiness and English working-class meanness – has been the land upon which the foundations of Scottish independence have been laid out. And it has been now shown to be treacherous, crumbling apart, and all fake news. It is a fantasy that its intended beneficiaries have stretched to breaking point.
The Scottish Social Attitudes survey concludes that “nationalism in Scotland has never seemed to be in finer fettle.” The survey reveals that support for Scottish independence is now higher than it has ever been (on 46% – slightly higher than that registered during the 2014 independence referendum). Yet in finding that Scotland’s “long-term increase in scepticism about Europe reflects a not dissimilar trend elsewhere in the UK,” the ultimate inference is that we are all, across the whole table of this island, the same electorate, following the same trends and reflecting the same class dynamics. The survey may have generated gung-ho headlines such as “Support for Scottish independence ‘higher than ever’,” but in the small print, the existential underpinning of Scottish independence is quietly slipping away.
So the next time you hear it said that “Brexit, ironically, has expunged the notion that a British nation with a common set of values exists north and south of the border” (Colin Kidd); or that Scotland is a “small nation in bed with an elephant” (Tom Devine and Lesley Riddoch); or that “Dumb Brexit will eventually force Scotland to take the only course available to protect its long term interests, which is independence” (Iain Macwhirter); or that Scotland “lies prostrate and face down, crushed by the boot of right-wing English nationalism” (the Wee Ginger Dug), then just reach for that trusty 67%. It essentially confirms the moral case for the Union, if confirmation were needed, that we are all the same people, speaking the same language, sharing the same history, consuming the same media and literature, subscribing to the same Enlightenment project and, on these grounds, indivisible.
The idea of a mysterious tribal difference between England and Scotland is so irrational that it seems to be in defiance of the very principle of secularism. That this idea has got so far shows just what peril the Enlightenment is currently in.
Nonetheless, Nicola Sturgeon’s interventions this week are at once bold and unconfident and politically inept. Any Scottish independence campaign that starts out with spluttering acrimony towards the UK is a non-starter – it will alienate the wider public whose votes are crucial to the result. Sturgeon is today uncharacteristically disconnected from public opinion, at sixes and sevens over the popularity of the EU, and with her personal approval ratings below those of the Tory leader Ruth Davidson. So much for her! Blows to Sturgeon do not, however, do anything to create an empowered, ideas-filled Left. At least that glorious 67% proves that people-power, the basis of any genuine left-wing resurgence, is still in the game.