Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to call a vote on the triggering of Article 50 in the Scottish Parliament might, on the face of it, seem like a bit of a waste of time, writes Chris Green.
After all, the verdict reached by MSPs at Holyrood yesterday is not a legally binding one. According to Brexit Minister Michael Russell, there simply wasn’t time for the required Legislative Consent Motion to be drafted.
And even if such a vote had been arranged, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the devolved nations do not have to give their permission for the Government to begin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Despite knowing all this, Ms Sturgeon decided to hold a vote anyway.
Politically, it proved to be an excellent decision which is already reaping dividends for the SNP.
Firstly, the resounding result against the triggering of Article 50 can be waved by Ms Sturgeon in her meetings with the UK Government as further evidence that Scotland deserves a different Brexit deal from the rest of the country.
Secondly, it put Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives in the awkward position of having to vote against the wishes of the majority of Scots by backing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
They supported Theresa May, but have lost face at Holyrood by doing so.
Thirdly, it highlighted further cracks in the unity of the Labour Party. Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale put herself at odds with Jeremy Corbyn by telling her MSPs to vote against the triggering of Article 50.
Most did, but three rebelled and voted with the Tories, creating – to put it mildly – a bit of a mess.
The SNP, by comparison, look totally unified on the issue (helped by the fact that their Brexit-voting MSP Alex Neil was absent from Holyrood yesterday for health reasons).
Finally, when the inevitable happens and Mrs May does formally begin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as she plans to do next month, Ms Sturgeon can claim that the views of both Scottish voters and their elected representatives have been ignored. This narrative sets the stage perfectly for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The SNP is due to hold its spring conference in Aberdeen on 17 and 18 March: could that be the moment that Ms Sturgeon fires the starting gun on indyref2?
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