Nicola Sturgeon may be playing politics, but on the streets of Stirling the appetite for independence is growing

Chances are Sturgeon is just trying to scare Theresa May into giving Scotland a seat at the adults table when the full Brexit negotiations kick off. But grassroots nationalists aren’t interested in clever ploys

Nash Riggins
Friday 14 October 2016 14:19 BST
Scottish government announce intent to publish plans for second independence referendum

A lot of people watching fallout from the Brexit vote from the confines of Little England seem to be suffering from the delusion that Scottish independence is a half-baked, pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Scots nationalists, they say, are just a bunch of idealistic drunks who want more from a state that already bends over backwards to accommodate their every need. It’s an unrealistic dream; high time the Scots grew up and joined the rest of us here on Planet Earth. But north of the border, there’s a depressing sense of inevitability where independence is concerned.

It’s a huge risk, of course. A vote to leave the UK is a vote to divide families, intensify economic uncertainties and cripple our children’s chances of prosperity. Going it alone is borderline crazy. But if ever there was a year to do something crazy, 2016 is it.

Thanks to Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers, we’re already living in a country that’s already starkly divided. Disgusting hate crimes are on the rise, families have been split apart and the pound sterling can’t seem to make it two days without falling on its face. This catastrophic march into oblivion is precisely the disaster that Scottish voters were condescendingly warned not to unleash in 2014.

Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland's voice will be heard

Now that England has cruelly imposed that same embarrassing exercise in self-destruction on the rest of us, a question begs the answer: has Scotland honestly got anything to lose by ditching a xenophobic, cash-poor, post-Brexit Britain?

That’s something that a lot of Scots have been openly pondering since mid-June, and so Nicola Sturgeon now think she’s got the answer. That’s why the First Minister has announced plans to publish a new draft bill that will put independence back at the forefront of Holyrood’s agenda.

Scores of non-believers are already rolling their eyes with disdain. Sturgeon still hasn’t got the numbers to make good on her predecessor’s Braveheart-inspired pipe dream. And if another referendum were held tomorrow, pollsters say Scots would still reject independence (albeit by the skin of their teeth).

But that’s not really the point. Yes, next week’s bill will be nothing but grandstanding fluff. There won’t be a timetable or any sort of credible plan of action. Chances are Sturgeon is just trying to scare Theresa May into giving Scotland a seat at the big boy table when the full Brexit negotiations kick off at the start of next year. And if that’s the desired aim, it’s actually a pretty good ploy.

But grassroots nationalists aren’t interested in good ploys or playing clever politics. On Scotland’s streets, scores of activists are already responding to Sturgeon’s insincere battle cry with gusto. In the shadows of Stirling castle, radical socialists are spending their weekdays playing folk songs, collecting donations and handing out old campaign buttons. In Falkirk’s tattoo parlours, Scots are getting blue “Yes” logos etched permanently onto the back of their necks. Flyers are being shoved through letterboxes once more, and the excitement is palpable. Diehard supporters never gave up hope.

Meanwhile, general opposition to independence is beginning to wane. Ask half of the old ladies who spoke out ardently against leaving the UK in 2014 and now you won’t get so much as an exhausted shrug of the shoulders. It’s unfashionable to stick up for the Union. Apathy is rife and, thanks to the Brexit business, voters feel totally marginalised at the parliamentary level. You can hardly blame them.

Does that make independence a smart move for Scotland? Of course not, but the appetite is certainly there and voters are getting hungrier by the day.

Make no mistake: there will be another referendum – and England should start getting worried about it. Because if Nicola Sturgeon ever does decide to stop pussyfooting around the question and bring a second vote to the table, she’s going to do a hell of a lot better than 45 per cent. If the mood on Scottish streets is anything to go by, it’s looking more and more like she could actually win.

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