Scottish independence referendum: Phony war between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson must not descend into Catalonia-style folly – Scotsman comment

As new MSPs arrived for their “first day at school”, with new haircuts, stationery and minds bursting with enthusiasm and ideas, many would have almost immediately found themselves embroiled in the complexities of cold, hard political calculus.

The SNP and Scottish Greens do not want an independence referendum anytime soon because the polls suggest they would lose.

The unionist parties and UK government don’t want a referendum because, even if it looks like they might win, it's too close to take the chance.

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So while the Scottish government will rail against its Westminster counterpart over its refusal to allow a referendum and the latter will chorus back well-worn lines about the “once-in-a-generation” 2014 vote, it will be, as others have said, a phony war for the time being, at least.

Both have the Covid crisis to contend with, but when that subsides, there will eventually come a point when the SNP’s referendum plans are as far along as they can be and, barring a surprise U-turn, Boris Johnson says: “No.”

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On Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out putting legislation for a referendum to the Scottish Parliament early next year. And yesterday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove refused to rule out taking action in the Supreme Court in the event of an attempt to hold one.

The First Minister has sensibly stressed she will only hold a legal referendum, but could come under pressure to reconsider in the event of a stand-off.

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon need to remember that 'Middle Scotland', not their most ardent supporters, will decide the independence question (Picture: Duncan McGlynn/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Both sides need to realise this is a contest that will be settled in the court of public opinion, not a judicial one, and that the key arbiters will be the portion of the electorate described by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as “Middle Scotland”.

They are unlikely to be impressed by anything close to the disputed referendum in Catalonia, which resulted in a unionist boycott, a false independence majority that was ignored, violent clashes between nationalists and police, and legal action against Catalan politicians, some of whom were sent to prison.

Such an outcome would undoubtedly set back the cause of independence, just as it has done in Catalonia, but it would also cause long-lasting bad-feeling towards the UK government and the Union.

Anyone attempting the political calculus to determine the 'winner’ of such a scenario is a fool, and a dangerous one.

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