Leader comment: The SNP is planning another row, not another referendum

When listening to the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford discuss the prospect of a second independence referendum, it’s as important to pay attention to what he doesn’t say as it is to listen to what he does.

Mr Blackford has announced that the SNP will this week put forward an amendment at Westminster asking for the power to hold an independence referendum to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament if Brexit proceeds. Those who yearn for Indyref2 should be wary about taking much heart from the SNP’s plan which, doomed to fail as it is, is designed to create a row between Holyrood and Westminster in which Scotland may be portrayed as victim.

The UK Government has repeatedly made it clear it has no intention of granting the Scottish Parliament the authority required to make any future referendum legally binding. Ministers point to the result of the 2017 General Election, when the SNP lost 21 seats to Unionist Parties which, between them, took more than half the vote, to rebut claims there is a mandate for another referendum.

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Mr Blackford and his party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, both know quite well that the UK Government is in no mood to change its mind on the issue. When the necessary transfer of the power to hold one is refused, SNP politicians will - of course - complain the UK government is dictating to Scotland what it may and may not vote upon. Westminster will be portrayed as a distant force, denying Scots the right to choose their future.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Pic: Jane Barlow/PA

What Mr Blackford didn’t say yesterday was that there would be a second independence referendum. And that is because, for the time being, there won’t be.

By the First Minister’s own standards, the time is not right.

Nicola Sturgeon’s advisers have, in the recent past, briefed about the circumstances in which she would be minded to call for a second referendum. The First Minister is said to want to see YES polling at more than 60 per cent for a number of months before firing the starting gun.m The SNP hoped that a number of political developments - the Tories winning an overall Westminster majority in 2015, the UK’s decision to vote Leave, among them - would help nudge the polls closer to that 60 per cent target but, so far, this has not got close to happening. The SNP are planning another row, not another referendum.