Scottish independence referendum date: Nicola Sturgeon's big announcement was a horrifying act of tedious political theatre – Murdo Fraser MSP

Ever feel you need a break from the news but get fed-up there is nothing to watch but repeats? You could have been at the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

Nicola Sturgeon had nothing to say about the cost-of-living crisis. Not a word on increases in gas and electricity bills now or in the future. Zilch on food bills. Nada on health service waiting times. Discussion of declining standards in education and the widening attainment gap was missing.

No news. Instead we got a repeat. Indyref the remake – again. Like watching an old black and white movie on BBC Two on a rainy afternoon, where the celluloid may have faded but the performances have not.

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In this one, even the central character was jaded. One of Nicola Sturgeon’s greatest plays is faux outrage. Wrathful certainty. Square-jawed conviction.

This time even she looked bored. The script was fiction and it is difficult to lend yourself to the implausible when even the central actor knows that what she exudes is mince.

She didn’t lead her people up the hill again as so often in the past, she sneaked them round the corner. After all, it was wet, and the hill looked steep. Fancy just staying in?

There was the certainty of a date – October 19, 2023 – if lots of other hurdles are crossed. The First Minister has asked the Lord Advocate to firstly ask the Supreme Court whether she has the power to call a referendum. Momentous? Or just one lawyer asking another lawyer to ask the lawyers if she can do something everybody knows she hasn’t the power to do.

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Nicola Sturgeon, seen with John Swinney in Holyrood, has announced the date of a proposed second referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon, seen with John Swinney in Holyrood, has announced the date of a proposed second referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon, seen with John Swinney in Holyrood, has announced the date of a proposed second referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But I worry for our First Minister. I wonder if she is suffering from the selfie-taker’s equivalent of tennis elbow. Whether after attending all those international conferences that are nothing to do with Scotland, the laminate on her CV has begun to look worn. All that glamour ends every time in ‘auld claes and cauld indyref’.

She styled herself as the defender of Scottish democracy – who can’t come to terms that she lost the “once in a lifetime” referendum in 2014. The defender of democracy who insists the voice of the people must be heard while applying a cushion to the mouths of the majority who don’t want a referendum or independence.

Behind this dull annual repeat, there appears to be an even more tedious drama between the First Minister and her predecessor, Alex Salmond. Mr Salmond, it is widely believed, did not want to stand down as First Minister. And for some reason, because of events since then which could have seen him end up behind bars, he and his mentee don’t seem to be on speaking terms any more.

So every now and then, it is the old bear who pokes with a stick and calls for a referendum. Ms Sturgeon responds by feigning enthusiasm for a vote she doesn’t really appear to want to hold. (What would she do if a decent job abroad came up halfway through the campaign, after all?)

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Scotland’s belief in independence, always a minority sport, appears to be waning. At the same time, it may be coming more apparent that the First Minister thinks Indyref2 is an albatross around her own neck.

The law’s delays are something Ms Sturgeon will be familiar with and presumably now will be counting on. Her civil servants will continue to publish penny dreadfuls on how an independent Scotland could have the weather of Antigua, the cuisine of Paris and the industry of China if only we were free, and the First Minister will be free to do what she does best – do nothing but deflect.

She will share her supporters’ pain and frustration that the lawyers – possibly in a Westminster conspiracy – are taking so long to make a determination. If all goes to plan the judges will wait until just before the short campaign of the next general election to make their judgement so saving the First Minister the trial of coming up with a manifesto. She can ramp up the outrage, surely one last time, for the only vote she really wants held.

But the only worry for her is that, year on year, the plot seems to get even thinner and thinner in her version of the Wizard of Oz. Even friends of Nicola must be starting to believe that the red shoes have lost the click they once had. They know she doesn’t believe it.

This was not nationalism red in tooth and claw. This was a dose of valium for the men in woad, with hot chocolate and biscuits.

But the sadness is that while this show is losing its followers, it still manages to deflect from Scotland’s real needs. SNP self-indulgence is deepening Scotland’s pain.

In the autumn, gas and electricity bills are going to rise even more steeply, but the First Minister is doing nothing to prepare. Families are struggling to feed themselves but Nicola Sturgeon feeds them ideas she doesn’t believe. The Scottish economy is in poor shape and may face a recession, yet nothing is done.

Sometimes leaders offer things to address the people’s concerns and then fail to deliver. What is happening in Scotland is even worse. The leader of our devolved administration promises things that are not designed to meet the people’s needs knowing she won’t deliver.

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Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon talked of the long journey to establish our devolved parliament and then she dishonoured it. She didn’t speak to, or for, the people of Scotland. She spoke to a faction she needs within the SNP and then tried to mislead.

The boredom of a repeated matinee is in truth a horror for Scotland.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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