Leader comment: Sturgeon should take indyref2 off table

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told media yesterday she would reflect on the indref2 effect on the general election result. But she stopped short of acknowledging that it was the main reason for her party's loss of 21 MPs.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told media yesterday she would reflect on the indref2 effect on the general election result. But she stopped short of acknowledging that it was the main reason for her party's loss of 21 MPs.
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In the early hours of yesterday morning, as the political map of Scotland was being re-drawn around her, a contrite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was important that her party reflected on the results of the general election.

Although by any normal standard the SNP “won” the election in Scotland – it has the largest number of seats in Scotland, and 37 per cent of the vote the definition of victory this time was different.

Speaking from the Glasgow count, she remained calm and polished even though she had just watched senior colleagues such as Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond lose their seats to the Conservatives.

Then at noon, some eight hours later, she called political journalists together for a statement at Bute House. The First Minister admitted that the possibility of another independence referendum was a factor in this election.

Ms Sturgeon said she would say more when she has properly reflected on this, adding it was “important to take a pause”.

But pausing it not what is required here.

The electorate has trusted the SNP in spectacular style up until now. The high water mark was winning 56 out of 59 seats at the last UK general election in 2015.

At that time, voters said clearly that Nicola Sturgeon was a leader they could trust, a Scottish politician who could act in the country’s best interests and take on UK politicians at their own game – and beat them.

But having misjudged the public mood, the First Minister must now send a clear message that says: “I am listening.” Not “I am thinking about listening.”

Having pushed the issue of a second referendum so far – and having seen the response – she must take the referendum off the table for the immediate future.

Yes, other issues were at play in this election, including Brexit. But it would be a mistake to overplay that. Voters have said clearly: this is not the time.

This does not mean that the SNP cannot raise independence in a few years. But right now there is so much uncertainty. The economy is still not in robust health, and Brexit is a huge dollop of uncertainty to throw into that mix.

What we don’t need is another layer of indyref2 on top. It’s too much right now. And voters won’t change their minds quickly on this.

The First Minister must make her future plans clear – and quickly.

She should redouble her efforts to tackle the issues that voters are most concerned about: health, education, the economy, local government funding.

And, as she said herself, throw her considerable influence and power into securing the best possible Brexit deal. But it’s hard to do that, when you are also arguing to take Scotland out of the UK.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Indyref2 is dead and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the election result was the “final nail in coffin”. This isn’t true.

In the long term, perhaps, a positive case can be made for independence. But right now, even the SNP don’t seem to be able to articulate what this is. While opposition parties banged the drum during the election campaign on an anti-independence stance, the SNP made few strong arguments for indyref2. And by the end of the campaign, the party looked as though they wanted to raise anything but the “i” word.

An independence fight can only be won once the arguments begin to appeal beyond the core group of voters who will always say Yes. And that is a long way off at present.

Take indyref2 off the table now. Roll up your sleeves and make the most of Scotland’s existing powers. Then the voters can begin to trust again. Amid the maelstrom of uncertainty elsewhere, Scotland needs this more than ever.