HAS the SNP’s astonishing and pundit-defying victory made the prospect of a quick dash to another independence referendum more likely? I don’t think so.
Nicola Sturgeon spent the entire election campaign saying a vote for the SNP would not hasten another immediate indyref and it says a lot about other parties and their leaders that such cast-iron guarantees so often look ripe for cynical abandonment.
It says a lot about the mainstream media too, that this non-question is occupying so many minds now when more real, immediate and interesting constitutional possibilities sit before Scots.
The SNP fought the election and gained an estimated 900,000 No voters on an anti-austerity platform.
When Nicola Sturgeon stood in London and committed her party to modest growth on the grounds that welfare and public spending cuts were stifling recovery – progressive voters across the whole UK sat up and took note.
And yet a suspicious and largely union-supporting media decided to take its cue from Labour’s claim that voters had only 24 hours left to save the Union. That was poor judgment. The Nationalists were – and remain – the only UK party not talking about the constitution.
Of course Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have a goal of independence. Of course they are not above a bit of wheeling and dealing to achieve that goal.
But the reason Nicola Sturgeon has the highest trust ratings of any political leader in Britain right now, is because her leadership tends to deliver what it says on the tin.
Alex Salmond was an arch game-player. Having led the party (the first time around) during the long arid years when the SNP was dismissed as a little local difficulty – he had to be. But his successor is cut from different cloth.
She learned the hard lesson of the indyref – don’t listen only to the bubble. So 50 per cent of Scots voted SNP on Thursday night but 50 per cent didn’t. It was an archaic first-past-the-post voting system that converted half the votes into almost all the seats.
A general election can become a landslide victory with just 50 per cent of the vote – an independence referendum cannot.
So Nicola Sturgeon will be reluctant to call a second vote until she’s sure she can win it. A “once in a generation” ballot could conceivably be stretched to twice if “exceptional” circumstances occur – like a UK vote to leave the EU whilst Scotland votes very differently. But thrice really would be pushing it.
She has one more roll of the dice in the next decade without risking her party’s hard-won majority at Holyrood – so she has to pick her time very carefully.
Will such a cautious approach find favour with the SNP’s 80,000 new foot soldiers? Once again, the preoccupation elsewhere with being “on message” means jaundiced onlookers cannot see how a punch-up over timescales can be averted – and of course there will be differences of opinion.
But I’d guess Nicola Sturgeon will use her considerable clout to persuade supporters there are slightly smaller but equally important fish to fry first.
Right now indyref 2 is not Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority. But competence handling every other challenge at Westminster and Holyrood certainly does inch it closer.