Current Affairs Opinion

A union on the brink: why the combination of Covid-19 and Brexit is paving the way for Scottish independence

The Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 seems a world way. I was a nerdy 12-year-old who thought I could make a difference campaigning with my newly registered Twitter profile, which had up until that point been used solely for Zoella and Eurovision purposes. Nevertheless, I was proud of my 12 followers and keen to spread the word about the catastrophe that I felt Scottish independence would be. This was at a time when being proud to be British wasn’t seen as jingoistic and before Coronavirus or Brexit had entered the equation. I felt passionately that my country should stick together. 

7 years later and the world could not be more different. Not only are we ravaged by a global pandemic which is destroying almost all aspects of normal life but an alliance that seemed so secure before is now broken. 62% of Scottish voters backed Remain in the EU referendum so why would Scotland want to hang around in the UK when they could be part of a European community which champions free trade and peace? The answer is that they wouldn’t – and who can blame them?

There are strong economic arguments in favour of Scotland staying in the UK and it is by no means guaranteed that they would be able to re-join the EU if they did leave – after all, many member states with similar separatism disputes (such as Spain, Romania and Cyprus) would have a lot to gain from preventing this. But, with the pandemic thrown into the mix, independence might be a risk worth taking for Scotland. 

Nicola Sturgeon has maintained public trust while Boris Johnson’s expectation management has been appalling. While Sturgeon has come across as empathetic and honest, Johnson has compared cases peaking to camel humps and sombreros, undermining his message to the public. Our government’s handling of the pandemic has been shambolic and there have been many instances where Nicola Sturgeon has taken a completely different approach to Boris Johnson down in Whitehall. Here are just a few: 

  • Sturgeon announced a third lockdown before Johnson 
  • Schools in Scotland were told to close immediately whereas England’s schools remained open for just one day
  • When Sturgeon went as far as to ban indoor household visits in Scotland, all Johnson did in England was introduce the illogical 10pm curfew
  • Sturgeon has been openly sympathetic from the beginning whereas it took 100,000 deaths for Johnson to finally say sorry

Unsurprisingly, a recent Ipsos poll revealed that a dismal 19% of Scottish voters believe that Boris Johnson is handling the pandemic well compared to an impressive 74% who believe that Nicola Sturgeon is doing a good job. She has emanated confidence and clarity rather than Boris Johnson’s constant deceit and delay. He also has a tendency of addressing only England in his press conferences, a fatal flaw considering he is meant to be the Prime Minister of the whole of the UK. Though Sturgeon would never say she viewed the pandemic as an opportunity, it has certainly brought her life-long ambition of Scottish independence very close to fruition.

When the pandemic began, its political legacy was not on most of our minds. But now, with an end in sight, a breakup of the UK seems almost inevitable. If it weren’t for either Covid or Brexit there might have been a chance for the Union, but now with both colliding in calamity, separation seems more and more likely every day. As we continue to trundle along in our Oxford bubble (albeit now virtual) it is easy to ignore the implications of these divisions: immense reduction of opportunity in Europe and Scotland (starting with our removal from the Erasmus scheme) is just the beginning of how this might impact us. We thought losing Europe was bad enough but now that Scotland is likely to go too (and justifiably) we really may end up all by ourselves. So much for Global Britain!