Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

From the file

Scottish Independence | From Brexit to Boris, a lot has changed since Scotland held its independence referendum in 2014. So much, in fact, that the result might be different now

Further reading

Further reading

Friday 27 November 2020

For those who want more answers to the Scottish Question


This week’s File is all about Scotland’s future, with a second independence referendum on the cards if the SNP win big in May’s Holyrood elections. If you want to find out more about how we got here and where we are going, read on:

  • Let’s start with a look at where things stand. The prime minister undermined his self-bestowed title of minister for the Union when he told northern Conservative MPs that devolution had been a “disaster” and Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake” (as reported in the Guardian and elsewhere).
  • The incident caused an outpouring of reflection amongst the great and good of Scottish politics. Gordon Brown reflected that he and his former boss Tony were naive in thinking devolution would strengthen the Union of nations (as reported in the Times and elsewhere).
  • The whole incident will have brought smiles at SNP HQ. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross raced to undo the damage. Nick Eardley at the BBC explains the awkwardness. 

Devolution has been a fact of life for a generation – so the Guardian has resurfaced a 1986 article to help you cast your mind back to its beginnings. Here is a bit more context:

  • Michael Alexander at The Courier has sifted through the legacy of Donald Dewar, the architect of Scottish devolution, who died 20 years ago.
  • Tortoise reporters Ella Hill and Xavier Greenwood reported on challenges in health and education in a Sensemaker earlier this month.
  • But Scotland’s economic performance in comparison to England actually suggests there’s an argument for more devolution, according to Professor Alex de Ruyter and David Hearne in The Conversation.
  • A Nation Changed?, edited by Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, looks back on the SNP’s decade in power, investigating how the party has altered the nation and signposts challenges to come.

Indyref rebooted

Last time around, things got tense. For every Scot hoping for independence was another willing more years of Union. It all feels like a long time ago, so here’s a reminder:

  • This week’s Slow Newscast mentioned an article in the Economist about Scotland’s military importance as a hint at the resurgence of Project Fear. But just what was that project? Sky News Correspondent Joe Pike wrote extensively about the pro-union campaign in his book, conveniently titled Project Fear
  • The referendum experience changed Scotland forever – not least because of the subsequent collapse of the Labour vote, as noted in Peter Lynch’s book Aye or Nae. For more on this, Ailean Beaton in Holyrood points out the existential challenges facing Scottish Labour in their bid to win over younger voters. 
  • All Scotland’s leaders have firm views on the matter. Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater set out their stalls in the Herald.

Inside the SNP

  • The SNP had a long road from the political fringes to the establishment. But how did they get there? James Mitchell and Gerry Hassan’s profiles of Scottish National Party Leaders is an introduction to the full cast of past party heads through its history.
  • Nicola Sturgeon is now at the helm. You can catch-up on our October ThinkIn about her chances of bringing about an independent Scotland. 
  • In the New Statesman, Alan Taylor profiled Sturgeon’s personality and style of leadership in contrast to her predecessor Alex Salmond.
  • Speaking of whom: Sturgeon’s fall out with Alex Salmond over the party’s investigation into sexual assault allegations has caused a rift in the party. Dani Garavelli followed Salmond’s court case for Tortoise (he was cleared).
  • More recently, Gemma Fraser in Holyrood presented a blow-by-blow account of the rift. (If you prefer to listen, tune into the BBC’s Podlitical podcast discussing the issue).
  • John Boothman reported in the Sunday Times that civil war could erupt in the SNP, as party chief executive Peter Murrell (also Sturgeon’s husband) faces a vote of no confidence after party members questioned transparency at the HQ.

Scots, Brits, Europeans?

  • Brexit gave Scottish independence a second chance. In 2019, the Atlantic ran a long read on the challenges Brexit posed for voters on each side of the line in IndyRef 1.0.
  • Edinburgh University Professor James Mitchell in the Herald questions the binary understanding of Scots as nationalists or unionists and says Scotland’s constitutional status will inevitably change, whatever happens next. (Colin Kidd in the New Statesman makes an interesting argument about this too).
  • Could Scotland rejoin the EU? Historically, countries hoping to join have to go through a rigorous accession process. Anthony Salamone argues in an LSE Blog that Scotland would be no exception. 
  • Kirsty Hughes at the Scottish Centre for European Relations wonders if it could happen in as little time as three years.

Scotland’s story

And finally… anyone who wants to really get to grips with Scotland’s future has to understand its past. Wars, treaties, diplomacy, betrayal, cooperation: the myths and histories that together shape Scottish identities are woven into modern political debates. Here are a few tomes to help you while away a winter evening:

  • Christopher Whatey’s The Scots and the Union attempts to recast the 1707 Union of the Crowns in the context of international bonds, negotiations and compromises, whilst setting out its continued impact on political debates today.
  • Going further back through the mists of time, Edward Cowan’s book unravels the mythic status of the Declaration of Arbroath and Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.
  • The King over the Water, by Desmond Seward, tells the story of the Jacobites and their long-running influence.
  • Michael Lynch’s Scotland: A New History offers a whistle-stop tour of key moments in Scottish history and the characters that colour its past, from Bannockburn up to devolution.

Those who fancy a little background music as they read could do worse than Karine Polwart’s song-set storytelling, Fara’s Orcadian fiddling, or the foot-tapping tunes of Glaswegian band Talisk. Dougie Maclean’s Caledonia, beloved across the political divide, remains as good an insight into the sentimental Scottish psyche as any other.