Despite calls for an independent Scotland following Brexit, polls show 55 percent of citizens support the status quo.
“I’m with Nicola” is a popular slogan on Scottish National Party memorabilia at conferences and elections. And while SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was unlikely to have had a total reprieve at this week’s SNP conference in Glasgow because of Brexit uncertainty, there is a palpable trust among her supporters that she will find the best route to a possible Scottish independence.
Some delegates at the SNP annual conference gave a cautious reaction to the possibility of a new independence referendum, brought on by the Brexit vote. The SNP’s thirst to separate from the United Kingdom remains undimmed but they have gained a measure of pragmatism after Scotland voted No to independence in 2014 following a referendum called by former SNP leader Alex Salmond.
On the conference stalls, T-shirts remain on sale emblazoned with the slogan “Yes” and the party’s in-house newspaper is still called the Scots Independent. There are no tartan-and-shortbread Scottish stereotypes here however.
The SNP is viewed as a modern outward looking party, increasingly more European than insular.
Sturgeon meanwhile has become something of a style icon in Scottish political circles, with her high heels and dresses designed by Scottish fashion house Totty Rocks. “I don’t think we can actually predict when the next referendum is going to be,” Malcolm MacLean, a party member from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, told AFP in Glasgow. “I think it is in Nicola’s hands and I am quite happy to wait until Nicola gives the green light—but I do think we have to keep the pressure up.”
Sturgeon opened the conference on Thursday with a promise to publish a draft bill for an independence referendum next week. She said it would be a fall back plan in case the British government does not heed her demands for continued membership of Europe’s single market and greater autonomy from London as Britain exits the E.U.
“It’s important to remember what we need to think about as a party in terms of independence, and how Brexit has affected that,” said conference attendee Christina Hendry, who joined the SNP nine years ago aged 12. Hendry said she wanted another referendum within two years.
“I’m a student and I have spoken to a lot of students who voted ‘No’ last time, and since Brexit happened they’ve actually changed their minds,” she said. “They have realized that if they want potential opportunities for the future either in Europe or in Scotland… then they need to vote to stay in the E.U., which essentially an independence vote can do.”
The polling does not appear to back her up however. A survey published by BMG for Scotland’s Herald newspaper this week showed support for independence at 45 percent and at 55 percent for the status quo—the same as the 2014 result. And a YouGov poll conducted in August showed support for independence at 46 percent.
Nationalists saw a glimmer of hope, tinged with a hint of sadness, in Britain’s referendum result on exiting the European Union. A total 62 percent of Scots voted in June to remain the E.U. only to be outvoted by the vastly more populous areas of England.
Looking ahead to next week’s referendum details, SNP Youth member Rob Rosie said he would be surprised if a vote date was mentioned. “But it’s quite exciting what is happening,” he added.