Brian Monteith: The polls don’t lie – Nicola Sturgeon has failed as a leader

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There is something about party conferences that often brings out the worst in politicians. The demonising of opponents, the flag waving – and of course the ­appearance of eccentrics that make you question the idea of universal suffrage (every party has some) – this week’s SNP conference is up there with the rest of them.

As is often the case before a party conference, there were some polls about the public’s voting intentions – especially if there is ‘no deal’ over Brexit. Westminster leader Ian ­Blackford MP claimed: “A majority of people would support an independent Scotland in the likelihood of a hard Brexit.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during day two of the SNP autumn conference at the SEC, Glasgow. Picture; PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during day two of the SNP autumn conference at the SEC, Glasgow. Picture; PA

This was not quite the truth for the three polls all told a different story. With a ‘hard Brexit’ a Panelbase poll said there would be a 52 per cent to 48 per cent vote to stay in the UK; a Survation poll said the outcome would be 50 per cent - 50 per cent and a ­private SNP poll said it would be 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave. Without a ‘hard Brexit’ outcome they all showed a continuing support for staying in the UK.

READ MORE: Poll: Half of Scots would vote for Scottish independence after Brexit

All pollsters agree that the ‘what if’ polls are far less reliable than making judgements on the here and now – so the reality is there really is no change in where we are. It’s only after we know what Brexit will mean – and can see the outcome – that polling will have any relevance. In fact, the polls contained bad news for the SNP with each one showing ­Sturgeon would lose further seats in the Holyrood elections, and depending on the vote for the Greens, could also lose the slim majority in favour of holding a second referendum. That the best Nicola Sturgeon can do when faced with the uninspiring Theresa May and a divisive Jeremy Corbyn is deliver a fall in SNP ­support surely requires questions to be asked about her leadership – but don’t expect that this week.

Typically the First Minister sought to deflect attention away from the damning rejection of her tenure as First Minister by ignoring the issue all SNP ­delegates wanted to know – when will they get a second independence referendum?

In announcing she would back a ­second referendum on EU membership Sturgeon raised hypocrisy to new levels. Her position is obvious for all to see – when she loses a referendum there must be a rerun, but if she were to win one it would be binding and beyond challenge.

Add to this the menacing tone ­coming from Edinburgh South West SNP MP Joanna Cherry, that there is no need to have a referendum to gain independence and we see that the utter contempt some SNP MPs have for voters.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry: Indyref2 not necessarily needed for independence

There was a time previously when it was accepted that if the SNP had a majority of MPs it could enter into negotiations with Westminster regarding independence.

The SNP decided it might be easier to win a referendum that concentrated voters’ thoughts on the question, rather than the many issues that decide a general election. By backing the referendum as the legitimate ­democratic vehicle to achieve ­independence it also meant people could vote for an SNP candidate without fear of causing independence. That’s why it was possible for the SNP to win so many elections.

To change that relationship with the voters the SNP would have to be upfront in advance of an election – risking a considerable fall in SNP support.

To change the democratic requirement without public endorsement must demonstrate how some in the SNP will stop at nothing. What next, an illegal referendum, ­followed by a unilateral declaration of independence?

Such are the ways bitter division is sown and in other countries previously mild-mannered people turn to violence. The likes of such tactics here should be condemned out of hand. Does Nicola Sturgeon offer any hope for the acceptance of legitimate democratic outcomes? I’m not convinced.