Scottish election 2021: How long before Nicola Sturgeon claims Covid votes for independence referendum? – Brian Wilson

On Monday, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “There are vital decisions to be taken next week about our next steps out of Covid restrictions. I am asking people across the country to send me back to my desk to take those decisions and keep Scotland on the right track by casting BothVotesSNP on Thursday.”

Lest anyone should be in doubt about her pitch, the tweet was tastefully accompanied by an image of the Scottish government podium upon which she has retained a tenacious grip over the past 14 months, including the period of the election campaign. The familiar legend “Protect Our NHS” was replicated.

Now here’s the question. How long will it take before every vote cast for the SNP on the basis of that very clear, very emotive appeal will be claimed as a vote in favour of a referendum on independence? Hours? Days? Weeks? By the time the ink is dry on this newspaper, we may have the answer. Or can we take her at her word?

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In times long past, I reported football matches, shouting down the phone from press boxes around Scotland for a London newspaper with early deadlines. My remit was to put over half the report at half-time, another block mid-way through the second half and a top and tail at the end. The obvious hazard arose when everything happened in the last ten minutes.

Writing about this election as half-time approaches puts me in roughly the same position. There are going to be a few twists and turns before we have a final result. But a few themes are already clear, particularly when taken in tandem with what happened in the rest of the UK. First, the vaccine success story is a significant factor with many people voting to reflect appreciation.

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In England, that worked for the Tories. In Scotland, it is less clear-cut because even these spoils are disputed. The truth, which nobody should have difficulty acknowledging, is that Scotland has benefited hugely from being part of the UK strategy. But there will be plenty who want to attribute it to the stewardship of Ms Sturgeon. So maybe they cancel each other out.

Turnout is another striking factor. It may even prove to be the big story of the election. My guess is that the increase is largely due to more applications for postal votes from people who were encouraged to apply in mid-pandemic. There is an interesting democratic point here, which does not necessarily work in favour of any particular party.

Nicola Sturgeon urged voters to 'send me back to my desk' to take 'vital decisions... about our next steps out of Covid restrictions' by supporting the SNP (Picture: Scottish government)

About 90 per cent of postal votes are returned, the vast majority of them within a couple of days ballot papers being received. This means that in some constituencies, close to half the votes were cast in mid-April when the campaign had scarcely got underway. A lot can happen in three weeks and I do wonder if there needs to be such a big gap between distribution and polling day?

The crucial point for the next days and weeks, however the seats finally divide, is that this was not a referendum on a referendum. Anyone who doubts that need only refer back to Ms Sturgeon’s tweets and many appeals from her, particularly in the final week, that votes should be cast in order to allow her to carry on with her pandemic duties – not to divide the country in two.

“Send me back to my desk to take these decisions (on Covid-19)” deserves to become a catch-phrase as famous as “once in a generation”. It was an election in which the incumbent party, and particularly its leader, had massive advantages for reasons which were unconnected to the constitution – a distinction which many voters, when interviewed, were anxious to make clear.

Either the new Scottish Parliament will get on with the job for which it was elected or else it will take us back into the tedious debate about a referendum which isn’t going to happen. As Ms Sturgeon returns to her desk for the pre-stated purpose (see above), it really is up to her to decide.

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