What’s changed Scots’ minds?
Three factors have been key – Brexit, COVID-19 and leadership. First, Scotland voted against Brexit – 62% of Scots voted to remain in the European Union at the 2016 referendum, while only 38% voted to leave. Many in Scotland believe that Scotland is being taken out of the EU against its will, and this has led some Remainers to change their minds on independence.
Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us devolution in action. Decisions taken in Scotland have affected people’s everyday lives more than ever before. And most Scots have liked what they have seen. The First Minister’s cautious handling of the pandemic – prioritising public health first and foremost – has resonated with the Scottish public, in contrast with what many Scots see as the chaotic situation south of the border.
Lastly, leadership and communication matter. Nicola Sturgeon’s favourability ratings among the public have remained sky high over the course of the pandemic so far. In November, 74% of the public felt the First Minister was handling the pandemic well – in spite of well publicised failings such as the number of COVID-19 deaths in care homes. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s ratings in Scotland have been woeful, just 19% of the Scottish public say he is handling the pandemic well, while 62% feel he is handling it badly. Johnson’s unpopularity in Scotland has undoubtedly contributed to the shift towards independence.