Scottish Elections 2021: If SNP wins a majority, independence debate will drown out key issues like the Covid recovery – Alex Cole-Hamilton

They say a leopard can’t change its spots, but there have been several examples of late of big organisations trying to do just that.

Standard Life Aberdeen announced plans to shorten its name to the baffling abbreviation Abrdn over the weekend. Their corporate branding team felt it would give the company a fresh and modern edge. Given that they’ve been lampooned for the past 72 hours, I’m not sure that’s how it’s been received.

But Abrdn aren’t the only ones trying to change the way the public see them. It’s happening in politics as well, with Scotland’s governing party.

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The SNP have clearly picked up on the same thing as everyone else who has been knocking doors since canvassing recommenced two weeks ago: the public has next to no appetite for an independence referendum any time soon.

Poll after poll shows that the people of Scotland want the next parliament to put the recovery in our hospitals, our schools and our jobs market first, while independence features near the bottom of most people’s priorities. As such, the SNP are quietly trying to dial down any talk of mandates and referendums.

But be in no doubt, you can bet your bottom dollar that after the election, the nationalists will use every vote for the SNP and every seat won by a nationalist party as justification for another divisive referendum. This leopard isn’t changing its spots.

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Scottish elections 2021: Are we stuck in an era of groundhog politics over indep...

Every day, we see nationalist politicians on the campaign trail unable to contain themselves about how tantalisingly close they think independence might be.

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Every vote for Nicola Sturgeon's SNP will be used as justification for another divisive referendum on Scottish independence, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Take last week, for instance: prominent SNP MSP Emma Harper broke the internet in an interview with ITV Border suggesting that a hard border with England might actually create jobs in Scotland.

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I suppose if you work in financial services or a company dependent on trade with the rest of the UK, you could retrain as a border guard or even a sniffer dog when the capital flight and trade friction that independence will surely lead to ends your career.

When asked about it the next day, Nicola Sturgeon tried to calm the horses by stating that “nobody in the SNP wants to see a hard border with England” – apart from all the people in the SNP who want to see a hard border with England, some of whom actually blockaded Gretna in the first lockdown.

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The SNP are in a trap of their own making. They spent much of this year setting this up as the most important election in the history of devolution and the final staging post before another referendum.

It’s why the last few weeks have seen running battles over the border, the currency question and Scotland’s deficit, which is now so high as to preclude any hope of rejoining the EU.

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In the microcosm of this campaign we have a taster of what the next five years might be like if the nationalists wins a majority. Skirmishes and debates around the constitution, even within the SNP itself, will starve all other issues of oxygen and political attention, just at a time when our nation expects our political classes to pull together and to rebuild Scotland.

There’s no question that’s turning voters off, from Annan to Abrdn.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western

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