GIVEN THE often troubled history of relationships between Great Britain and Ireland, it is perhaps not surprising that the separatist SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon got a warm reaction when she addressed the Irish Senate this week. Senator after senator lined up to express their support for Scottish independence.
One Labour senator, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, in a breath-taking display of ignorance as to political realities in Scotland, was reported as telling Sturgeon that the independence referendum had “unified” the country. It was all, as former Labour MSP Hugh Henry said in a Tweet, rather ironic that senators who wanted to unify one island were offering to help split up another.
Politicians are often more popular abroad than they are at home. This was true of Margaret Thatcher, who after the zenith of her popularity in the UK had long passed was still fêted in other parts of the world. She was a particular hero in Easter Europe for her strong stance, along with Ronald Reagan, against communism.
Any outsider looking in on Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction at the Irish Senate would think that independence was on its way. The brutal truth of the situation was revealed on the very morning that the First Minister returned home, with a new YouGov poll published in The Times newspaper.
The top line figures on independence show that support for a Yes vote has fallen to 38% (down 2 on the previous poll), while support for No was up to 49% (+3). Once the “Don’t Knows” were eliminated, this meant that the figures were 56 No against 44 Yes, the biggest gap found by YouGov in independence polling since the referendum date in 2014.
There was more bad news in the poll for Nicola Sturgeon personally, with her approval ratings having fallen to +11%, now well behind the growing approval for Conservative leader Ruth Davidson at +25%.
The party rating figures showed the Conservative vote for Holyrood up, with both SNP and Labour down. With some speculation that the SNP might be considering calling a snap election if they cannot get their budget through parliament in February, on the basis of this poll they would again fail to achieve an overall majority, and the Scottish Conservatives would be returning with an even larger group of MSPs.
Drilling down the detailed figures gives even more interesting information. Just 29% of those who voted Yes in 2014, and Leave in the EU Referendum, now say that they support independence. This strongly suggests that the SNP have got their strategy towards Brexit entirely wrong.
Many SNP voters who voted Leave are thoroughly disenchanted with a First Minister whose sole interest seems to be in retaining links with the EU, and are prepared to give up the goal of independence if this would mean being tied to the European Union.
Nicola Sturgeon may have got a warm welcome from the Irish, but this will not be enough to save the independence cause. The SNP are now clearly a party in decline, independence as a goal is further off than ever, and the party’s message on Scotland’s relationship with the EU is still totally confused. Nicola will need the luck of the Irish if she is going to get herself and her party out of this intact.