Sometimes, Westminster unwittingly makes quite a good case for Scottish independence. Britain’s Covid emergency has ended, but the damage of the last year is enormous: the knock-on effects of lockdown can be seen in NHS waiting lists, the devastated high street, the mental health backlog and the 20,000 pupils who are absent from the school register. There is urgent work to do, yet the government is engaged in a battle to the death over who paid for wallpaper in Downing Street.
We see a Prime Minister at war with his ex-adviser, unable to rise above the fray and capitalise on the opportunity of his vaccine success. Then there’s the opposition, unable to oppose. It’s not hard to see why many Scots might opt to press the ‘eject’ button by voting for the Scottish National Party in the Holyrood election next week.
Nicola Sturgeon would use a majority for independence by starting an immediate campaign for a referendum that would dominate Scottish politics for years, to the exclusion of all other issues. It’s worth asking what precisely that would mean.
The issues facing Scots are identical to those faced in England: the Covid-19 crisis is in retreat, but the deep societal damage of a year of lockdowns is increasingly evident. Some 3,550 fewer cancer diagnoses were made in Scotland last year, a fall of nearly 14 per cent. Scotland’s NHS is in no shape to play catch-up: even before the pandemic, waiting times for long-term health procedures were already estimated to be worse than in England. Generally, public services are less well run north of the border.
As for children, lockdown has hit poorest pupils hardest. But already poor pupils in Scotland were little more than half as likely as their English counterparts to get to university.