Scotland The Quiescent?

A two week stay in any country is not going to be long enough to truly understand it but it can leave you with impressons that are going to be more reliable than the standard issue hysteria of the media.

Scotland this summer was notable for being, well, surprisingly normal - culturally distinct from England (as evidenced by the narrative of its museums) yet clearly sharing a common cultural heritage with it that was different again from the cultural norms of continental Europe. Unlike Ireland in the 1960s, people were uniformly friendly to a Southern English accent.

Power in terms of trade and international relations lies entirely with the Government in Whitehall and Parliament in Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, got short shrift from the European Union when she tried unwarrantedly to claim the same sort of rights to be consulted on Brexit as a full member of the EU. Prime Minister May has been quick to reassure all the Celtic nations that she will be mindful of their interests. In the event, Sturgeon had nowhere to go, with no significant support for a second referendum in either Scotland or the UK.

Her chances of gaining independence within the European Union (something eurosceptics pointed out was a contradiction in terms) lay in a popular Scottish revolt against a Brexit decision imposed by English voters (which failed to materialise) or a Tory Remain revolt in Parliament that would force a General Election and renew the politics of coalition in which her party, the SNP, would be maker and breaker of Governments. This latter is unlikely to happen unless business Conservatives much further down the time line become existentially unhappy with May's exit negotiation.

Since then, her room for manouevre has weakened further. Tax revenues from the North Sea fell by a staggering 97% in 2015/16 to £60 million, creating a deficit of £14.8 billion, or 9.5% of Scottish GDP. The equivalent UK figure was 4%. This is relevant to the type of politics that underpins SNP success. Earlier this month, an Ipsos MORI poll for STV News gave Prime Minister May a net satisfaction rating among Scots of +16 points and Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, a rating of +31. In comparison, Nicola Sturgeon scored only +14 - good but no longer commanding.

Sturgeon had set her heart on a major political campaign to drive public support for a second Scottish Referendum but it seems that the Scots have had enough of referenda. Opposition to a referendum has grown by 10 points to 54% since June while those in favour had declined to 41%. In other words, defeat for the SNP and Labour on Brexit had not increased Scottish desire for independence but seems to have reduced it as if many Scots had seen Scottish independence as a means to parity within the European Union with England rather than as a cause in itself.

Travelling on the Eastern side of Loch Ness, one sees something of the true nature of Scottish politics. What on a decade old map was marked as General Wade's military road has been completely refurbished with new bus shelters, safety traffic management for hamlets and new wind farms clearly under way. Significant investment in the Highlands had clearly been taking place under SNP rule and one suspects that it is this rather than ideology that swings voters to and from independence. The SNP may already have peaked if Brexit Britain can bring Scotland new opportunities.