Chris Marshall: We’re all guilty of letting indyref2 sideline all other issues

The future of the British Transport Police is one of the important policing issues struggling to be heard in a political debate dominated by indyref2.
The future of the British Transport Police is one of the important policing issues struggling to be heard in a political debate dominated by indyref2.
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Regardless of their elation or disappointment at the result of the 2014 referendum, many Scots were simply relieved to have the whole thing over and done with.

While thousands were gripped by an unshakeable moral certainty supporting their “yes” or “no”, many entered the polling station still unsure where their cross would fall.

This was, after all, the referendum then First Minister Alex Salmond called an “opportunity of a lifetime”, a vote which would come to define Scottish and UK politics for a generation.

Yet less than three years later, here we are again.

That the circumstances have changed is beyond doubt. The seismic impact of Brexit – and Scotland’s rejection of it – has once more brought constitutional questions to the fore.

But observers on both sides of the debate will balk at the prospect of another protracted referendum campaign.

MSPs will today spend a second day debating “Scotland’s Choice”, using up valuable time on the hypothetical questions of another “indyref” when there are very real and pressing problems in our schools and in the NHS.

In matters of justice, too, there are significant issues not currently being given the scrutiny they deserve.

At its bi-monthly meeting in Stirling today, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) will discuss the financial challenges facing Police Scotland.

Before a penny of the 2017-18 budget is spent, there is already a projected deficit of just under £50m.

While the SPA has given assurances over its ability to balance the books by 2020, Auditor General Caroline Gardner has warned Scottish policing faces a budget gap of around £200m by the same date.

Then there is the issue of the SPA itself. The body took the decision late last year to hold the majority of its meetings in private and away from the public glare.

Meanwhile, the British Transport Police Federation will use its annual conference today to launch a scathing attack on the Scottish Government’s plans for railway policing.

The federation will accuse the SNP of “jingoism” and “cynicism” over the proposal to integrate BTP operations north of the border into Police Scotland.

These are just a small number of issues, but there are many more which deserve greater attention, including ongoing concerns about Scotland’s child abuse inquiry and difficulties being experienced by Scotland’s courts and prosecution service.

Yet most are mere distractions for a quiet news day not dominated by the latest development in the narrative of Brexit and indyref2.

The SNP has been accused of putting its desire for a second referendum above all else, essentially neglecting its day job of running the country.

But it is not just the nationalists – the entire political class, sections of the media and the Twitter bubble are all guilty of ignoring issues which have more impact on people’s day-to-day lives in the here and now than another vote.

No-one is denying the importance of a second referendum, the independence question will continue, quite rightly, to dominate Scottish and UK politics.

But where the last vote was damaging and divisive, the next one threatens to become a distraction before a date has even been agreed for when it will take place.