As one SNP amendment after another to the Scotland Bill is defeated in the House of Commons, Nicola Sturgeon has much to consider during the summer recess and in the run-up to next year’s Holyrood election, in particular, whether she is willing to provoke a constitutional crisis.
Less canny politicians like her predecessor, Alex Salmond, or the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, periodically threaten a second independence referendum. But Ms Sturgeon is altogether a more astute operator.
The stakes are high. Losing two referenda in short succession would render the SNP an international laughing stock and would certainly be career-limiting for Ms Sturgeon.
If the First Minister, swayed by recent opinion polls, calls a second independence vote and ignores the will of the people as expressed in last year’s referendum, there is no doubt David Cameron will remind her again of Mr Salmond’s and her own much-repeated “once in a generation or even a lifetime” promises.
Much more significantly, the Prime Minister will also seek to enforce the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement by which she agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum.
If Ms Sturgeon includes a referendum, without qualification, in her 2016 Holyrood manifesto, and subsequently demands it, she risks Westminster’s refusal. How does she then proceed?
The result would inevitably be Yes since No voters would abstain but, without unconditional Westminster support, separating Scotland from the rest of the UK would be impossible.
The more likely course is that Ms Sturgeon will seek to reserve the right to call a referendum should events so dictate, such as the UK’s exit from the EU.
This may appease her more extreme supporters while minimising the risk of an irrevocable confrontation with the Westminster government.
We shall see…