I have long accepted the fact that women are better at multi-tasking than men. However, even accepting this fact, one has to be impressed by Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to demand that Scottish Labour backs her call for a second independence referendum (your report, 24 September) while simultaneously refusing to commit to one in her own party’s manifesto.
Talk of a second referendum is a change for Ms Sturgeon as over the past year she has largely been a moderate Nationalist voice who sought simply to run a competent government, while her predecessor was left feeding titbits to the hard-core.
The reason for this is clear – the SNP must blow the independence whistle loudly to distract much of its new left-leaning support from what is happening in Scottish Labour.
Under Kezia Dugdale’s leadership, Scottish Labour has at long last got its act together. The party’s confidence in promoting its core values is credible.
In addition to this, it is doing a competent job of holding the SNP government to account over its real failures in health care, policing and education.
Just this week Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray MSP put forward a motion calling for Holyrood to commit to additional literacy specialists in schools funded from a 50p tax rate for the very highest earners when power over income tax becomes devolved.
The motion was blocked by the SNP working “hand in glove” with the Tories. Within minutes social media was awash with Nationalists expressing incredulity. Labour had forced the SNP’s mask to slip.
Ms Sturgeon knows that this change in Scottish Labour, coupled with Jeremy Corbyn’s election, is showing Scots day by day that there is a credible, progressive alternative to the regressive centrist platform cloaked in a tartan left-wing veneer so loved by the SNP.
The only uncertainty remaining is whether or not Ms Sturgeon can blow the independence whistle loud enough to distract from her party’s record in government.
Unsurprisingly, Nicola Sturgeon spent little time looking in the mouth of the gift horse she was presented with by Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie’s announcements that they would allow their colleagues free rein to vote as they wished in the event of a second referendum.
Their stance may be a “liberal” one but it’s certainly not one you could remotely imagine being adopted by their SNP counterpart.
Ms Sturgeon’s call to them for a “coherent” approach is somewhat ironic. This would be in response to her own “coherent” position that maybe she will or maybe she won’t!
Moreover, revealingly, her statement shows there are now two possible drivers. A second referendum could be triggered not only if there is a “material change in circumstances” but also if “opinion significantly shifts”.
Examples of changes of circumstances cited by SNP dignitaries include continuing austerity policies or a decision to renew Trident. Goodness! It would be a seismic shock if either of these revolutionary policies were to be thrust upon us out of the blue.
As to a “shift of opinion”, is Ms Sturgeon referring to opinion polls?
If so, I do hope she will give them due attention. A recent one found that although 53 per cent of those polled intended to vote SNP next year a third of them do not want a referendum.
But more likely Ms Sturgeon will be looking at the result of the 2016 elections. And that is why she will not herself produce a coherent commitment to a referendum in her manifesto.
She will attempt to capture the votes even of those who oppose independence or a second referendum by adopting the usual SNP approach of prevarication.
In response to Ms Sturgeon’s challenge the leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats need to declare their own and their party’s unequivocal support for the Union and unequivocal opposition to a second referendum for at least a “generation”.
And by the same token, Nicola Sturgeon owes it to the Scottish people to be honest and include in her manifesto unequivocally her clear intention to call a referendum in the next parliament if elected.
Braid Hills Avenue
So just when Sturgeon dampened down the independence rhetoric, Dugdale and Rennie fired it up again. Will unionists never learn – or are they not unionists?