Tom Peterkin: indyref2 ambush buys time but battle will rage

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not give in to SNP demands for a Scottish independence referendum next year or early 2019. Picture: PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not give in to SNP demands for a Scottish independence referendum next year or early 2019. Picture: PA Wire
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Theresa May yesterday attempted to get her own back on Nicola Sturgeon.

Having been the victim of a political ambush at the hands of the First Minister, the Prime Minister staged one of her own.

As Ms Sturgeon was fending off Tory and Labour attacks at First Minister’s Questions, Mrs May went on television to kibosh SNP plans for a second referendum.

It was some sort of revenge for the surprise sprung by Ms Sturgeon on Monday when she announced she would be formally seeking another vote – throwing a gigantic spanner into the UK Government’s attempts to extricate Britain from the EU.

Mrs May’s move not only creates some space for Brexit negotiations, but it also gives some relief to the sections of the Scottish electorate who are suffering from severe election fatigue. There are many who cannot stomach the prospect of going through the trauma of 2014 again.

Furthermore, it is a strategy designed to appeal to common sense. Rejecting Ms Sturgeon’s bid for a Section 30 order until a Brexit deal is done would at least give voters some idea of what they are voting for.

It is also a rare example of the UK Government standing up to the Scottish Government. That is why Conservative MSPs were hailing it as the Prime Minister standing up for the 55 per cent of Scots who voted No in 2014.

The big problem, however, for Mrs May is that her efforts will be in defiance of the will of the Scottish Parliament.

Next week, SNP MSPs with the help of six independence-supporting Green MSPs will pass Ms Sturgeon’s proposal for a second referendum. At this rate, we are rushing headlong into a full-blown constitutional crisis.

In the meantime, today sees the opening of the SNP conference in Aberdeen where activists and Nationalist politicians will vent their fury at Mrs May. Their wrath will be a sight to behold.

In the face of SNP anger, the Tories justify their position by claiming the Edinburgh Agreement which led to the 2014 vote established that a referendum should be legal, fair and decisive.

The Tory argument is that holding a vote before the Brexit deal is unfair. Ms 
Sturgeon, on the other hand, believes the shape of the deal will be clear by her autumn 2018 to spring 2019 timetable.

The UK Government did not rule out indyref2 altogether, so it is almost certain the vote has been postponed rather than cancelled.

The risk for Mrs May is that those angered by her actions drown out those who see them as a victory for common sense when the ballot papers finally do arrive.