The row of turreted tents for the international press pack that has appeared on the green sward outside Holyrood looks a little like the set for a medieval jousting competition.
On the afternoon before the election, the swirl of white clouds and blue sky seemed almost to make a saltire in the sky.
Instead of lances and charging horses there were arc lights, engineers and satellite dishes. On the scaffold balcony that suspends the TV journalists above the fray, Kirsty Wark prepared her piece to camera, with the Scottish Parliament in the background.
Spanish, German and other languages could be heard. The international press pack gathering in Edinburgh includes several European journalists interested in Scotland’s path to independence as a route back to EU membership. Brexit has changed the minds of many Scots on the constitutional question – and it has also changed the tune in European capitals where the noises are much more encouraging to Scottish independence seekers than they were in 2014.
Will questions about Johnson’s finances undermine the argument that Scotland’s economic future is best left in Westminster’s hands?
The media circus has arrived – but politicians from the UK government have not. The Conservatives have focused in the campaign on the constitutional question, arguing that Scotland’s future on the big questions – economy, security, immigration, relations with the EU – is best dealt with by Westminster. But no members of the UK government have appeared on the campaign trail to support that message. Boris Johnson didn’t come north despite saying wild horses wouldn’t keep him away.
This “leave it to the big boys” argument against independence has to be largely a question of trust. Perhaps the main risk for the Conservatives over the “cash for curtains” row will be the impression that the PM is as unreliable with money as he is with promises. And will that damage the argument that Scotland’s economic prosperity is best left in the capable hands of the UK government?
Brexit has reduced the opportunity that union with England once offered
The fallout from Brexit is rumbling in the background although much of the mainstream media seem reluctant to report on it. Scotland has close connections to Ireland and Scots are very aware of the effect on peace and prosperity there.
Highland hospitality and agriculture businesses are struggling without the EU staff they normally rely on. Scotland’s fishing, farming and exporting businesses are all worse off than before. The University sector has lost EU research money and the Erasmus scheme. Scotland’s EU citizens are being forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops which they resent, after building lives and businesses here.
The UK government is ensuring powers to allocate EU grants which were funneled through Holyrood and local councils are repatriated to Westminster, undermining devolution. And Scots have lost the right to live and work in the 27 EU countries – and for a nation with a long tradition of sending educated young people to seek their fortune elsewhere, that rankles.
It is perhaps under-recognised by many in the independence camp just how much support there was for the Union in 1707 among middle-class Scots. That support was based on a hunger for opportunity. But Brexit has reversed that – it means a big reduction in the degree of opportunity that Union with the rest of the UK once offered.
Conditions for Scotland’s independence supporting parties could hardly be better
The results of the Scottish election are very hard to predict. National polling doesn’t reflect regional variations that will affect marginal constituency seats. And the PR list seat system depends on those. It probably depends on turnout – all pollsters agree that there is a big age factor in support for independence, which peaks in the under 35s at more than two-thirds. We know there’s a record level of voter registration (4.28m) but some fear turnout could also be a record – low…
And if the Scottish National Party doesn’t win big this time, the question might be – when could it ever? If not now, when?
First published on the author’s personal website. Photos courtesy of Rob Bruce
For a left perspective watch this ConterLive online debate https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke6kVxeO0Uo