The polls had yet to open, far less close, when the predictions began. The 2024 General Election would be remembered as the moment when the threat of Scottish independence was extinguished forever.

The impending rout of the SNP would signal more than the Scottish electorate passing judgment on a failed and unpopular government: it would be the death of a 100-year movement.

Suddenly, it appears fashionable to revive the spirit of George Robertson circa 1997, whose memorably hyperbolic prediction that devolution would “kill nationalism stone dead” is, once again, de rigeur in some circles.

Operation Branchform, the ongoing defenestration of Nicola Sturgeon over her obsessive commitment to a divisive and dangerous trans bill, the Scottish Government’s failure to deliver on key priorities for voters such as health, education, and economic growth, are all potential, valid reasons why voters may have deserted the SNP in droves last Thursday.

But it wasn’t a political party that was standing in the election, according to some politicians and commentators; rather it was the notion of independence itself that was on the ballot, and the verdict of the electorate was unequivocal.

The separatist movement’s time has come and gone. There will never be another independence referendum. One fevered headline even asserted that the Union of Scotland with the rest of the UK has never been more secure in the past 300 years. Wow!

If journalism is the first draft of history, then it is, by its nature, short-termist and context-bound, but even commentators, and the politicians whose views they prospect, have a duty to consider the wider picture.

Elections come and go and the fortunes of parties wax and wane. To make definitive predictions even about what might happen in five or  10 years’ time in one of the most volatile periods of politics in the past century is to fail the Robertson test in schoolboy-error style. More so when the foundations of the argument are so riddled with contradictions and weaknesses.

Many of the voices celebrating the demise of the independence movement are the same ones signalling the fragility of Labour’s “loveless landslide”.

The result of the election nationally was less an endorsement of Sir Keir Starmer and his new model party, than a rejection of a government which has been in power for more than a decade, and which has failed to deliver on its promises. For the Conservatives in England and Wales, read the SNP north of the Border.


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The UK remains mired in turmoil and despair with a weak economy, low growth, and little hope that people will see an improvement in their prospects or standard of living any time soon.

The Labour Government, for all its record mandate and unparalleled parliamentary strength, is already on notice to deliver, with many critics - the same ones signalling the death of independence - predicting that it will be deeply unpopular by Christmas.

Little wonder then that the dial has not shifted on support for independence, which remains at around 50% where it has been, give or take, since the failed 2014 independence referendum.

Commentators who claimed support for the Union has never been as strong in the past three centuries have only to consult polls from a decade ago, when backing for a separate Scotland remained rooted in the low thirties, to see where they have gone wrong.

The weakness in their argument is to confuse the current fortunes of the SNP with support for independence, which now extends well beyond a single party.

Support for the nationalists fell by 15% from its showing in 2019 and the likely recipients of the vast bulk of those switched votes was only ever going to be Scottish Labour, which saw a 16.7% upswing in backing. Many of those same people who voted Labour also support independence.

For many young Scots, Brexit was a turning pointFor many young Scots, Brexit was a turning point (Image: PA)

While the SNP may well be a busted flush - and that is far from certain - with an ageing membership, independence is growing in popularity among younger people who support other parties as well as those who have no political affiliation.

For many young Scots, the 2016 Brexit referendum, when Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will, was a turning point, convincing them that independence would allow Scotland to pursue policies aligned with their priorities and address their desire for greater autonomy and self-determination.

What the leadership of Scottish Labour and other parties do to address the demands of a growing number of their supporters who support independence, remains to be seen.

After 17 years of unbroken rule at Holyrood, the SNP looks jaded, nepotistic, and out of ideas. Its selection of John Swinney as a replacement for the discredited Humza Yousaf as party leader, while serving the purpose of steadying the ship at the time, now appears to have backfired.

While Mr Swinney has the benefit of experience and stature in his role as First Minister, he is also saddled by association with past failures, having served in prominent roles in Ms Sturgeon’s and Mr. Yousaf’s administrations.

Yet predictions of the inevitable demise of the SNP may also be premature. Despite its multiple difficulties, it commanded 30% of the vote last week, compared with Scottish Labour’s 35%.

By the time of the next Holyrood election, in 2026, the Labour government at Westminster will doubtless be experiencing the same mid-term blues that affect most incumbent parties, and that may well be reflected in a loss of support for Anas Sarwar and his colleagues in Scotland.

When the levelling-out effect of proportional representation is factored in - and given the collapse of the Conservative vote in Scotland - it is far from inevitable that Mr Swinney will not at least be able to form a coalition government with one or more of the smaller parties.

The SNP has two years to recover credibility and support, and if it does not the most likely position by 2026 is a political vacuum in Scotland rather than a rampant Scottish Labour Party.

Riding shotgun to the fortunes of both main parties is a steady support for independence which, in times of uncertainty and economic gloom, is only likely to get bigger, rather than smaller.