The clue to the Scottish National Party’s main ambition is very much in the title. So an SNP government that failed to lay out its “Programme for Government” without being seen to advance the cause of independence would simply be making trouble for itself.
It was, therefore, with a degree of political theatre that Nicola Sturgeon revealed her plans to publish legislation setting out the “terms and timing” for a second independence referendum. It was a nod to the growing chorus of noises off-stage, expressing discontent with her strategy and unhappiness at the pace of events.
But the First Minister is a cautious politician who will be mindful of the consequences of a second referendum defeat. While polls have been showing support for independence at more than 50 per cent in recent weeks, none have been more than a few percentage points above the margin of error.
SNP strategists who share their leader’s caution would prefer to see polls suggesting they have the backing of about 60 per cent of the Scottish electorate before actually putting the decision to the people again. A lot can change over the course of a campaign. But what is obviously a more pressing issue than independence versus the Union – at least in the immediate future – is controlling the corona-virus outbreak while also making sure the economy continues to re-open as quickly as possible and children are able to attend school in person. This is absolutely vital for our health, livelihoods and the future of the next generation.
So, while we may need to accept that Nicola Sturgeon does have to play to her crowd to an extent, the effective management of Scotland’s affairs simply has to be her number one priority. If she takes her eye off the ball, we may all pay a heavy price. Some decisions, like the transfer of Covid patients from hospitals to care homes, have already cost us dear.
There are also political reasons to “stick to the day job”, as the First Minister is regularly told by opposition politicians. If, on her watch, Scotland’s economy slips further into recession, rather than bouncing back, then voters are less likely to follow as she seeks to lead Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
A government’s “day job” – running the country – is normally its most important task, but in Scotland this can be obscured by the independence debate. As this most serious of crises continues, it has never been so vital.
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