However, it is also apparent that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP administration and Boris Johnson’s Conservative one do not get along and that this animosity is harming the prospect of significant co-operation between the two.
This is understandable, given the intractability of the central issue that divides them. Achieving Scottish independence is the SNP’s raison d’etre and a threat to the United Kingdom that all unionists wish to preserve. Going down in history as the Prime Minister who ‘lost’ Scotland is a legacy that Johnson will be desperate to avoid.
So why would he, as Nicola Sturgeon suggested he should, embrace a “spirit of co-operation” with the Scottish government over arrangements for a second independence referendum? Doing so could help bring about an event that would almost certainly force Johnson’s resignation.
The fact that Sturgeon’s call was made in a party conference speech – and dismissed by a Downing Street spokesperson even before she had finished talking – suggests that the First Minister’s words were simply part of the SNP’s strategy to make political capital over Johnson’s refusal to allow a second referendum.
“This much is clear. Democracy must – and will – prevail,” Sturgeon told the party faithful. And it is a powerful argument to make against a straightforward refusal, although recent interventions by UK Cabinet ministers Alister Jack and Michael Gove – suggesting there might be circumstances in which a referendum could be held – may represent a subtler approach than a simple “no”. As it is less open to accusations of undemocratic behaviour, this could be more effective for the unionist cause.
If Sturgeon is truly serious about “co-operation not confrontation”, she should perhaps start with an issue that is more important, but less controversial than independence, namely the Covid recovery.
Given the gravity of the current crisis and the complex nature of navigating a route out of it, constant quarrelling between Scotland’s two governments and arguments about who should take credit for what will only undermine the process.
So, for the sake of the national interest, both need to look for ways to compromise and at least try to make relations between them more ‘diplomatic’.