By Russell Bruce
These are startling figures from polling by YouGov carried out for The Times
I have so far been unable to find a poll for any party in Scotland that ever actually polled higher than 57%. In an actual election the Tories achieved around 54% in the General election of 1955 and swept up a clear majority of all the seats in Scotland in a never to be repeated result.
As the Holyrood elections are nine months away it is possible that much could change by polling day but a strong trend like this offers potential to the SNP provided they and the electorate do not take the presumption of an SNP overall majority for granted. It was not an expected outcome in 2011, so therein lies the danger.
The other significant poll results are on the relative popularity of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond as a few vocal individuals on social media are calling for Salmond’s return although he is no longer an elected politician or even a member of the SNP.
Of course there are some who just want independence just as there were rather a lot down south who just wanted Brexit. The SNP has been playing the long game for years with a strategy that Alex Salmond introduced against considerable resistance from old guard fundamentalists. Nicola Sturgeon has carried forward this strategy with a solid performance in government and as a highly effective communicator reaching successfully out to wider sections of the electorate, especially women, breaking down the resistance of older voters and widening the range of social grade support.
Salmond a hero
For his achievements in office Alex Salmond is a hero of the independence movement. He drove the strategy that support for independence would rise through increased representation and working towards obtaining power in the devolved Scottish Parliament. In 2007 the SNP achieved power as the largest party by just one seat. 2011 delivered the landslide that brought about the reality of the 2014 referendum.
Despite the failure to get over the line, the rise in support for independence was a major move forward. In recognising the result when he resigned Alex Salmond left a hint for the future in the words “The dream will never die” Those words are important as never before at this time.
The Covid pandemic meant that plans for a referendum this autumn had to be postponed as campaigning would be impossible in the current situation. This means the May 2021 Scottish Parliament election becomes the next staging post in our drive towards independence. Only the party winning government in 2021 can bring about another Independence referendum. So much has changed since 2014 as a result of Scotland being dragged out of the EU because of the Brexit result in England.
The Salmond/Sturgeon strategy of running a government that commands majority support from the electorate has continued during these difficult Covid months. The imperative was to squash the spread of the virus because the health and well-being of the population was the one and only priority. That it has given increased confidence that Scotland could indeed run all its own affairs is a by-product of a long-term strategy, but not without significance.
If some do believe Scotland would be better led by Alex Salmond and that new independence supporting parties are a good idea the processes of democracy are open to them to promote their objectives. Although list only parties might seem an attractive idea, current polling indicates none of the announced or previous minor parties are making any headway. Only the Greens can expect to win a few list seats. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is within touching distance of the required 5% to qualify for a complex numerical opportunity to gain that last regional list seat in one or two regions.
Any small party in that position will be in a numbers game that cannot be predicted ahead of the actual count because the residual count for the three unionist parties could be in a multi cornered fight with the Greens, SSP and any new party that makes it through the 5% barrier and of course even with a massive constituency result the SNP could still have a bit of skin left for that last seat in some regions.
What will Alex Salmond decide?
That is a big unknown. The inquiry over the handling of the Salmond affair is the subject of a Scottish Parliament inquiry starting next week. Monday will bring the screening of a programme Kirsty Wark has long been working on so we need to see how all that unfolds. Newsnet thinks it unlikely Nicola Sturgeon will be significantly damaged and she herself has said it is a relief the inquiry will finally take place.
Alex Salmond was acquitted of all criminal charges. On the most serious charge the verdict was Not Proven which results in acquittal but it is not, as some allege, a verdict of innocence but rather that the Jury did not accept there was adequate collaborative evidence to support a conviction. This unique verdict in Scottish law is an important verdict for Scottish juries to have available to them. I also know, from personal jury experience, it is sometimes the outcome when a jury cannot agree on a verdict of guilt or innocence. None of us though can know how the verdict was arrived at on this particular charge. The Jury of 15 was reduced by 2 departures to 13. The judge gave clear instructions that on each of the charges the jury must reach a verdict agreed by at least 8 jurors.
Alex Salmond was open and honest about his behaviour right from the start when he said “I am no angel but have not done anything criminal”. So he has been judged. That he was open about indulging in inappropriate behaviour was a crucial part of his defence. In the age of Me Too he has suffered reputational damage as The Times poll would seem to confirm.
Understandably he has concerns about what he went though. The important thing for Alex Salmond to keep in mind are his own words “The dream will never die”. Of that he has ownership although he bequeathed the dream to all of us. That he has a future role in some form is not in doubt should he overcome the legacy of the trial to carve out a future role as an elder statesmen.
“But if it comes down to a choice between his personal reputation versus the fortunes of the SNP and the Independence movement, few with experience of the man would expect Salmond to pick the latter. He may yet bring the entire edifice down around him”Chris Deerin, New Statesman contributing editor (Scotland) 25 January 2019
It is to be hoped Deerin is wrong and Salmond seeks the role of elder statesman that past achievements indicate is within reach. He will never be forgiven should he destroy the dream bequeathed to us in his final minutes as as First Minister.