Nicola’s Indyref manoeuvres fool no one

Nicola’s Indyref manoeuvres fool no one

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 26, April, 2019

IF EVER someone deserved the title of the Grand Old Duchess of York, then surely Nicola Sturgeon would qualify for her flip-flopping on the question of a second independence referendum.

Back in June 2016, within hours of the result of the Brexit referendum being announced, the First Minister was on her feet in Bute House telling the assembled press that she was instructing civil servants to draw up legislation for a second referendum. Now, nearly three years later, we seem to be little further forward.

At Holyrood on Wednesday, in a lengthy statement, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that she now believed that there should be a referendum within the term of the current Scottish Parliament, i.e. by May 2021. So a Bill to hold a referendum will be introduced. But, crucially, no application is being made to the UK government for the Section 30 powers that would be required to make such a referendum legal.

So, at last, we will see legislation on a referendum, but this will be a pointless exercise without the legal powers to actually allow it to be held. And the First Minister is not indicating when that application will be made, and for that matter the UK Government has been quite clear that any consent will not be forthcoming.

So what exactly is going on? The First Minister’s manoeuvrings have to be seen in the context of this weekend’s SNP Conference, and a growing demand within the Nationalist grass roots for movement on the independence question.

For years now they have had to listen to Sturgeon and her colleagues telling them that Brexit will be a disaster for Scotland, that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against our will, and that independence is the only answer. But the actual progress towards holding a referendum is still far from substantial.

Writing in The Scotsman on Thursday, the former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill got it right when he said that Sturgeon’s statement confirmed that she was not planning to try for independence before 2021, and this was all about positioning for the party conference and heading off growing internal dissent.

It is not surprising that the First Minister is being cautious, as there is no evidence that Brexit has led to support for independence increasing. A recent survey of opinion, carried out by Angus Robertson’s Progress Scotland Group, seemed to suggest that support for independence was now as low as 37%, compared to 63% for remaining in the UK.  These figures were confirmed in this week’s Survation poll commissioned by Scotland in Union.

So while Sturgeon cannot be blamed for being cautious, it is likely that many in her own party will simply see their frustration grow. With the clock ticking down on the current Scottish Parliament term, and no guarantee whatsoever of the SNP being re-elected to government, or having a majority of pro-independence MSPs after 2021, the prospects for another referendum in the foreseeable future appear to be receding.

From a Unionist perspective this is of course to be welcomed. The constant constitutional shenanigans from the SNP are a huge distraction from the important work that needs to be done by the Scottish Government.

Just this week, we saw a damning report from Reform Scotland on the decline in subject choice in Scottish schools, a decline which is hitting hardest at those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We see the continual problems with ScotRail, with constituents of mine in Fife utterly frustrated at a regular programme of train cancellations. And that is on top of all the other problems we have with the economy and public services, which are simply not getting the attention that they need due to this First Minister’s fixation with independence.

This week the Edinburgh financier Peter De Vink, an enthusiastic and leading member of the Yes Campaign in 2014, declared himself utterly disillusioned with Sturgeon’s SNP and their high tax agenda. This was enough to stop him from supporting independence, in the event that another referendum were to be held.

Peter De Vink will not be alone. Everything that we see gives the current Scottish Government all the hallmarks of an administration well past its sel- by date. Whether the SNP grass roots are prepared to put up with the drift for much longer is something that will be well worth looking out for.

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