Scottish independence referendum: Nicola Sturgeon must ensure her big gamble does not distract from vital duties of government – Scotsman comment

“Now is the time for independence,” said Nicola Sturgeon as she announced the Scottish Government’s plans to hold a referendum on October 19, 2023.

Many will be left wondering quite why, in the midst of a growing cost-of-living crisis and with a severe recession looming on the horizon, the First Minister thinks the time is quite so ripe.

It is unquestionably the case that independence – just like Brexit – would come with an economic cost. So a time when people are struggling to heat their homes and feed their families seems like a particularly poor moment to embark on an endeavour as monumental as attempting to create a new nation.

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However, the Scotsman and many others, including a number of nationalists, suspect that this referendum will not actually take place next year, given the refusal to grant permission by Boris Johnson and suggestions by constitutional lawyers that the Supreme Court will rule it is outwith the Scottish Parliament’s powers to hold such a vote.

Indeed, the First Minister seemed to anticipate this, saying if the court ruled against her, the SNP would make the next general election a “de facto referendum” with the SNP standing on the single issue of independence.

What this means is that Scottish politics, for at least the next year and more likely two, will be dominated by the constitutional question to an even greater extent than it has been of late. We are also a step closer to the horror of a Catalonia-style stand-off, which any sensible politician, with concern for the people they lead, would never risk.

Anything bad, anything wrong with life in Scotland, will be blamed on Westminster, repeatedly and often, enabling the Scottish Government to escape taking responsibility and brush aside genuine concerns.

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Nicola Sturgeon must ensure the Scottish Government remains focused on the NHS and other vital services while pursuing her independence ambition (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

It is said a week is a long time in politics; two years of that kind of paralysing debate – in the middle of one of the greatest crises since the Second World War and with Vladimir Putin continuing to spread death and destruction with global consequences – could lead to a lifetime of woes.

Some in the political classes may give credit to Sturgeon for making a bold play to achieve her ultimate ambition. With obstacles to be overcome before a referendum can be held and support for independence wavering below 50 per cent in many polls, she knows it is a gamble.

However, in the real world, it is also a gamble with the welfare and fortunes of every single person in the country, just as the disastrous Darien scheme in the 17th century, which precipitated Scotland’s entry into the 1707 Union, was a gamble.

The renewed uncertainty and divisive debate will have a real effect on inward investment. What businessperson from outside Scotland will invest in this country not knowing if it will be in the UK or the EU or neither, or even what currency it will use? Level-headed nationalists may have factored such questions into their thinking, but the cost-of-living crisis fundamentally changes the equation.

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However, we are where we are. Sturgeon is pursuing the aim of her party from a position in government and has a right to do so, providing it is done in accordance with the law.

The appeal we would make is for the First Minister to recognise she is not in opposition, but in power, and therefore has a duty to the people she leads to help them through these troubled times and ensure that basic services operate effectively. When ambulances do not arrive on time, people die. When cancer treatment is delayed for months, people die.

Sturgeon must not become so fixated on independence that she takes her “eye off the ball” – to quote her infamous admission about Scotland’s drug-death rate – and fails to tackle all the serious economic and political issues we are facing.

Ultimately, the people of Scotland will provide their verdict on the First Minister’s big gamble. And if Scotland loses as a result of her decision to throw the dice, they may be unforgiving.



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