Scotland, the independence threat that takes Johnson's sleep

The Scottish flag is cute and seemingly harmless. A white cross on a sky blue background. Hides a martyrdom. For something it is called the Cross of San Andrés. That shape in Xs had the timbers in which the saint was nailed. The same X with which 62% of Scots rejected Brexit. The same martyrdom that awaits Boris Johnson if the Scottish National Party (SNP) manages to win an absolute majority in the Holyrood Parliament this Thursday.

Despite the chain of polls that, for a year, have indicated a clear majority of the supporters of independence, when the moment of truth has come, the country has once again shown that it is divided into two equal parts. The newspaper The Herald published this Sunday the BMG Research poll, led by the most respected sociologist in the United Kingdom, John Curtice. Discarded the undecided, independentistas and unionistas tie to 50%. That same study, however, grants the SNP 68 seats in the regional elections. In an assembly of 129 deputies. And his candidate, the current chief minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has already pledged to promote a new independence referendum during her term in office – the previous one was in 2014, and he did not win with 55% – if she obtains an absolute majority.

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Inverness, where the Highlands begin, has 50,000 residents. Of them, 8,000 are university students. Six years ago, a study selected the city as the happiest place in Scotland. You can’t be more Scottish than Ian Chisolm. She is 74 years old, and has worked her entire life in the family business: Chisolms Highland Dress. Make the national costume for men, universally known. Not only because of the tartan skirt (the famous kilt), with the colors that identify the family clan. Also by the sporran, that leather, hair and silver fanny pack that replaces pockets. Or the short fitted jacket, and the leather shoes, made by the best British shoe brands. The whole can be several thousand euros. “The confinement has ended and dozens of clients have come, several of them English, to order his suit. Most of them are for postponed weddings, ”says Ian. “I’ve always had the feeling that we were part of something bigger. I am very Scottish, but I am also British. It might sound silly, but I think young people’s blood started to boil over that movie, Braveheart”. Mel Gibson undoubtedly contributed to magnify the myth of William Wallace.

Scottish national costume tailor Ian Chisolm in his Inverness store. / RAFA DE MIGUEL

But most of the highlanders they are of a more calm temperament than their compatriots in the south, those of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where nationalism is rampant. 42 years ago, an Englishman in love with this land decided to set up one of the most beautiful second-hand bookstores in the world in Inverness. Charles Leakey chose an old church, installed a huge iron stove in the center of the nave, stored firewood for the region’s eternal winter, and erected dozens of shelves with thousands of books. Many of them from Scottish literature and history. “I am 69 years old, and I have seen this independence feeling grow. It still seems more emotional than rational to me, because I know that many of my friends, as soon as they do the math and see the economic catastrophe that it would entail, they would vote with their heads ”.

Charles Leakey, in his second-hand bookstore in Inverness
Charles Leakey, in his second-hand bookstore in InvernessRafa De Miguel

The owner of Leakey’s Bookshop clings to the rational argument. Others, like Ken Bryson, who came to Inverness from Glasgow to sell fresh fish, trust his intuition more. Or maybe your feet are more on the ground. He knows of the rage of Scottish fishermen, who feel betrayed by Johnson’s Brexit, but its effect has had a lucky turn for him. “People want local produce, and fresh produce. Scottish fish for the Scots. Since I have returned to the street I have not stopped selling ”, he explains while showing the trays of salmon and cod. “I don’t want independence, but I understand each other’s reasons, and I think that sooner or later it will come.”

The Brysons pose with their fish stall in Inverness.
The Brysons pose with their fish stall in Inverness.Rafa De Miguel

Never has such an uncertain panorama had a clearer background noise. It’s called independence, but SNP leader Sturgeon knows that the Scots have yet to recover from a devastating pandemic. Although its numbers of deaths and infected are not far, proportionally, from those of the rest of the United Kingdom, it has projected the image of responsibility and caution that Johnson has not had. And he wants to maintain that temperance before the idea of ​​a secession. There will be a new referendum, he promises, but only if the majority is clear, and when the coronavirus is under control. It will negotiate with London so that the British Government allows a new consultation. Only if Downing Street persists in its refusal, will it choose the unilateral route, through an act of the Autonomous Parliament. And he will abide by what justice says if the matter ends up in court.

Against this prudence, Alex Salmond, the former leader and mentor of Sturgeon, who took the SNP to its highest levels with the 2014 referendum, believes that Alex Salmond has found his niche. The defeat in the consultation, and the serious accusations of sexual abuse and even rape by Several party employees – from whom he was acquitted – sunk his image. It has risen with a new formation, Alba (the Gaelic term Scotland is known by), and with a full-blown attack on the integrity of its successor that has stirred the waters of independence. “I can’t believe they don’t talk to each other, they have been allies for so many years,” says 59-year-old Dougie Bogie, scratching the Aberdeen beach with a rake and writing ALBA in large capital letters. You have already planted the Scottish flag. In the background, the mills of the huge North Sea wind farm move. It is the new oil from a region that came to be called Northern Saudi Arabia, because of its oil deposits. “I am from Whitburn, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I think I started to be pro-independence when Margaret Thatcher’s policy wiped out the mining wealth of the region. I saw how my father, an engineer, stayed on the street. It was then that we began to turn our backs on the Labor Party and its allies, the trade unions, ”he explains while enthusiastically commenting that Salmond is going to visit this city, the third largest in all of Scotland.

Dougie Bogie rakes the letters of the Alba party on the beach in Aberdeen.
Dougie Bogie rakes the letters of the Alba party on the beach in Aberdeen.Rafa De Miguel

And Salmond arrives, to take a quick photo with 30 followers, and ask for their help to reach a “supermajority” in favor of independence. He believes he has found a hole in the devilish Scottish electoral system, which forces him to vote twice. One for the deputy of the constituency – the most voted party takes the seat – and another for a regional list. There are eight regions, and seven representatives correspond to each one, assigned with proportional distribution. A total of 56, which the SNP used to neglect in its strategy. This time, no one wants to leave fringes loose. Although Sturgeon knows that, with the support of the Greens, who may have as many as nine MPs and are even more pro-independence than she is, the will to separate from the United Kingdom has a comfortable and calm majority.

The rejection of London is especially felt among the urban classes of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s hard to find someone young or middle-aged who doesn’t swing between defending the Scottish identity or accepting an inevitable future, and why not, well. “This is a wonderful country, and full of wealth. I don’t understand why we have to give the UK more than we receive ”, protests Gary Garruthers, 49, a worker at the National Bagpipe Center. Another topical place that, as such, hides its contradiction. A photo of the Prince of Wales, Charles of England, is displayed at the entrance of the building. The heir to the British Crown is the patron of a foundation that ensures the preservation and dissemination of this very Scottish instrument. “During the pandemic, the number of students who have taken virtual classes has doubled. It must have been boredom or lack of work, ”says Gary.

Gary Garruthers, outside the National Bagpipe Center in Glasgow.  / RAFA DE MIGUEL
Gary Garruthers, outside the National Bagpipe Center in Glasgow. / RAFA DE MIGUEL

-Or a nationalist passion?

– ”It would have been good, but I think there is plenty of that”, he answers with a laugh.

The Conservatives and Labor barely aspire to win 20% of the vote and fight each other openly for the second position. The electoral buses of Anas Sarwar, the son of Pakistanis, are limited to claiming for his party the second vote of the Scots, that of the regional lists.

The Labor Party election bus calls for the second vote of the electors for Glasgow.
The Labor Party election bus calls for the second vote of the electors for Glasgow.Rafa De Miguel

The 38-year-old Labor candidate has been in charge of the formation for just 10 weeks and it would not occur to him to say aloud that he aspires to be Scotland’s chief minister. He would proclaim victory if he managed to beat conservative Douglas Ross against the polls. In this campaign, tories they have tried to hide everything that has been possible from Johnson, while presenting themselves as the only bulwark capable of stopping the rupture in the north of the United Kingdom. His calls to form a “constitutional bloc” to curb independence movement have been ignored by Labor and Liberal Democrats, whose sole objective is to find their own useful niche in a monochrome political landscape.

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