Glasgow, Scotland – A fresh shot across the bows of British unionism came in the form of the May publication of a Scottish National Party (SNP) report outlining new prospects for Scottish independence.
The 354-page report was commissioned by the pro-independence SNP Scottish government in Edinburgh and endorsed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It outlines 50 recommendations on a range of economic areas, including banking, immigration and currency.
In 2014, Scots voted 55-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom in its highly charged independence referendum. Four years on, the constitution remains front-and-centre of Scottish political discourse.
Today, support for Scottish independence remains at the mid-to-high 40 percent mark.
As Britain continues its Brexit negotiations against the wishes of Scotland’s electorate – who voted by 62-38 percent to remain in the European Union (EU) in the UK-wide referendum of June 2016 – the publication of the dossier reignited simmering constitutional tensions.
“This report is part of a long-term strategy, but there’s not likely to be another independence referendum any time soon,” the University of Edinburgh’s James Mitchell told Al Jazeera.
Mitchell said the report was looking to “address some of the issues that were seen to be weak points in the  independence referendum” ahead of any future sovereignty poll.
Perceived “weak points” included a formal currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of Britain, which was promoted by then-SNP leader Alex Salmond during the 2014 campaign, but ruled out by then-UK chancellor George Osborne just months before the plebiscite itself.
The report’s proposal states a sovereign Scotland should retain the UK pound informally for a transition period after independence before potentially introducing its own currency if six economic tests were met.
Milestone for independence
The report’s publication – as a tool to re-focus minds on the prospect of Scotland one-day making the leap from UK constituent nation to nation-state – was music to the ears of many pro-independence supporters, including SNP councillor Christian Allard.
“This report is important – it’s a milestone to tell us what an independent Scotland could look like,” said Allard, a member of the Scottish Parliament between 2013−2016.
He said the party remains optimistic despite its setback of four years ago.
Scottish unionists, who remain committed to Scotland’s three-century-old place within Britain, see the SNP’s latest offering as an unwanted distraction.
“I don’t think, at the moment, the people of Scotland want to delve back into a full-on independence debate right now,” Conservative Lord Ian Duncan, the UK under-secretary of state for Scotland, told Al Jazeera.
“I’m not detecting an appetite for that in the wider Scottish population.”
For Scottish strength of feeling into revisiting Scotland’s constitutional future, pro-independence advocates point to significant opinion poll support for Scottish statehood, and the likes of a pro-independence march in May in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, which attracted some 40,000 people.
Unionists, however, point out that opinion poll support for Scottish independence remains below 50 percent. They also note last year’s snap UK general election that saw the SNP drop 21 Westminster seats from the 56 it won in 2015 on account, political observers say, of large elements of Scottish public hostility towards another proposed independence poll.
Yet, despite last year’s general election result, SNP’s drive to keep the flames of sovereignty alive is undiminished. Not only does it occupy a strong position at Westminster – where it is the third-largest party – but it continues to dominate the Scottish Parliament where, combined with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, a parliamentary majority for independence remains.
|Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP has a mandate to call a second independence referendum following the Brexit vote [Graham Stuart/Reuters]|
‘Get on with the day job’
British constitutional uncertainty over the impact of Brexit has also focussed minds at SNP headquarters, where an independent Scotland remaining in the EU is a cornerstone of SNP policy.
However, party hopes that Brexit would propel the pro-EU-voting Scottish public into majority independence-supporting territory have been left frustrated. But Mitchell contends such a shift could yet transpire.
“Britain voted for Brexit, but we aren’t out of the European Union yet, so there isn’t the perception of the cost of leaving the EU – but that will come in time,” he said.
Allard, a French national who has made Scotland his home for several decades, added the Brexit result has “put a lot of balls in the air again”.
“The kind of country that we thought we would become by Scotland voting No [to independence] has not materialised,” said Allard, referring to pledges made by the unionist campaign during the 2014 referendum that the only way to guarantee Scotland’s place within the EU was to vote No to Scottish statehood.
While a lot of political debate has re-surfaced since the report was published – with Scottish unionists stating SNP should forget independence and “get on with the day job” – not everybody in the pro-independence camp has welcomed the dossier.
Former SNP MP George Kerevan wrote the report betrayed the SNP’s working-class base and was “in danger of robbing the next independence referendum of being a rallying cry of hope for working-class voters”.
Speaking in Brussels after meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, on Monday, Sturgeon said she still expected to make a decision about a so-called indyref2 this autumn.
“I stood on a manifesto in [the 2016 Scottish election] and was elected on a manifesto that had the prospect of a second referendum in the context of Brexit. So, the Scottish government has a mandate for that,” she said.
But as Sturgeon weighs her options off the back of a report she has stressed is not SNP policy – but simply recommendations – opponents of Scottish independence are piling on the pressure.
“Nicola Sturgeon has to be very clear that more debate and discussion around independence is going to go somewhere,” said Duncan. “It’s very hard to march your troops up to the top of the hill and then leave them there.”