Tom Devine: ‘SNP must deal with economy to win indyref2’

Sir Tom Devine. Picture: Greg Macvean
Sir Tom Devine. Picture: Greg Macvean
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One of Scotland’s leading academics has said Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to win a second vote on Scottish independence will depend on the progress of Brexit talks and how well her party tackles economic challenges.

Sir Tom Devine also suggested in an interview with The Herald that the recent strong rhetoric from supporters of the constitutional status quo amounted almost to “goading” the Scottish Government towards “the precipice of a second referendum”.

The academic - who revealed just a few months before the 2014 referendum that he would be voting Yes - said: “My sympathies still lie in favour of Scottish independence as the best long-term route for the nation on many levels.

“However, whether or not I’d be willing to cast my vote in that direction within the next couple of years depends on two things: the quality of the SNP Government’s attempts to deal with the daunting economic questions - especially in conditions that are much less benign - and the progress of the Brexit negotiations.

“The vital element is timing. As far as possible until we see how things are going, my advice to Nicola Sturgeon would be that our gunpowder must be kept dry. I think the chances of a favourable vote are much greater the more apparent a hard Brexit becomes. At the moment there is still lack of clarity in this area. And I’m firmly of the belief that Brexit will not occur anyway.”

He added: “The hard Brexit being pursued by Theresa May will erode support for Leave and strengthen Remain. And the last UK ambassador to the EU warned that negotiations would go on for at least 10 years; that will encompass two UK general elections: a lot could happen. The 27 member states all have to agree with final outcome and each has a veto.”

Sir Tom said the Brexit vote had created challenges for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

“Brexit means that the second independence referendum will be fought on ground and at a time that is not of the Scottish Government’s choosing,” he said.

“The First Minister Sturgeon is now boxed in and has no choice but to go for the second referendum if she is to avoid undermining some credibility.”

However, he also said that even if Ms Sturgeon calls a referendum for next year or 2019, there were many reasons for optimism among Yes supporters.

He said: “Support for independence is now much higher than it was at the start of last campaign and Better Together will have a much reduced offering.

“The UK Government which will still be expected to coordinate a new No campaign is fighting a war on three fronts, which also includes the vexed issue of a hard border between north and south in Ireland and all that that might entail.

“And the thought of unending UK rule by a right-wing Tory government is a powerful weapon if wielded astutely. It’s also the last chance saloon for supporters of Scottish independence. Defeat will mean that the cause is lost for this generation and the one after that.

“Such a prospect might concentrate the minds of waverers and soft Unionists.”

And when asked whether the rhetoric of Union-supporters had become tawdry, Sir Tom said: “I agree; it’s almost as they have become oblivious to the so-called partnership that Gordon Brown and David Cameron talked about in 2014. They seem to be goading the Scottish Government to the precipice of a second referendum.”