Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon is playing political games that sow division when she should be uniting us – Murdo Fraser MSP

You have to be of a certain age to remember Poppin Hoppies and I confess I am of that vintage. They were briefly the rage amongst seven and eight-year-olds in the 1970s when Scottish nationalism was last on the rise.
Nicola Sturgeon is playing political games over the timing of any future referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon is playing political games over the timing of any future referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon is playing political games over the timing of any future referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

A game where you hovered over a mushroom-shaped, spring-loaded piece of plastic, waiting for the moment when the rubber sucker holding it down released the spring, firing the poppin hoppie into the air for a brief few fractions of a second during which the player had to catch it before it plunged back to the ground – inert once again.

As Nicola Sturgeon’s team plot a second referendum they appear to be playing a political game of Poppin Hoppies. For mushroom-shaped pieces of plastic, they see Scots. And as they pore over opinion polls, they seem to be waiting for a brief moment when support for leaving the UK glimpses into the ascendency, hoping they can grasp that second before it plunges back down to Earth again.

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What they claim is for them building a nation is, in fact, a children’s game not in keeping with modern times. As we celebrate the seventh anniversary of Scotland voting decisively to remain within the United Kingdom, the SNP are looking at their toys.

There is no attempt to try to build a stronger case for leaving – questions like the currency, potential EU membership, and the deficit, are too hard for them to answer.

Instead time is spent hoping for the moment of maximum weakness in their opponents.

The SNP leader speaks less of how she will build a land of milk and honey and prefers to concentrate on the plagues, railing against Boris and Brexit. She does not recognise Scotland as it actually is. Our nation is deeply, often viscerally, divided on the constitutional question and the First Minister divides when she should be trying to unite.

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Grasping a moment of her maximum advantage might be personally aggrandising for her, but it will do nothing to heal Scotland’s wounds or address our troubles. The process of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would be lengthy, complex and costly. Investors have already said they would leave. So would many Scots. Our economy, already weakened by years of uncertainty and neglect, would not survive the upheaval visited upon it if we were still as divided as we are.

To go into a referendum campaign within, or close to, the margin of polling error could be disastrous. A narrow victory for the ‘Yes’ side in such circumstances would lack loser’s consent, leaving an angry and bitter minority – hardly the most propitious environment for the enormous national endeavour that creating a successful new state would be.

If Scexit talks were going badly for Scotland, how would the leader of a Scotland trying to leave the UK cope with narrow opinion polls turning against them? How could they hope to strike a deal?

It all stands in stark contrast to where we were in 2014, with a referendum that is now considered to be the gold standard for such events. Alex Salmond had won an overall majority at Holyrood with a clear commitment for a vote, so the mandate was not in doubt. Even for unionists like me, there was an acceptance that this question – which in more than 300 years had never been put to the Scottish people – needed to be answered, in a once-in-a-generation event.

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There was a national consensus that holding that referendum was the right thing to do. Every member of the Scottish Parliament, from every party, voted for it to happen. And all the key practical issues – the franchise, the timing and the wording of the question – were agreed between the UK and Scottish governments with very little dispute. We are a world away from that today.

The 2014 vote was supposed to lance the boil of constitutional wrangling once and for all, not to present the First Minister with a scab to pick at, a wound to infect.

We hope the pandemic is behind us, but it has left scars on our economy, our communities and many families. Recovery should be our uniting national focus.

There is no evidence that Nicola Sturgeon or her party could rebuild better in an independent Scotland when her administration has run down what she had in terms of the economy, schools and hospitals she inherited within the Union.

Scotland was asked the most profound of questions about our existence in 2014 and after an often fractious and ugly debate, our voice as a nation was heard loud and clear. To ask us to go into to battle again, against each other, when the wounds are still fresh, just because Nicola Sturgeon thinks the wind may be in her favour is not the way ahead. It is no way to build a new nation – and that is what we need to do within the Union or outside it.

Monday’s speech by the First Minister was deeply depressing. Scottish exceptionalism was again effortlessly asserted, while the rest of the UK’s alleged oppression was manufactured, and then gloried in, by a politician sounding like a propagandist preaching to a people she doesn’t respect.

Perhaps her tone revealed that we are not close to the beginning of a second referendum campaign, but closer to the end of the First Minister’s tenure. Sturgeon comes across as increasingly distracted and tetchy. The clock ticks down on her term in office and there is no sign that the public are warming to her ultimate political goal.

Enoch Powell famously said that all political careers end in failure. If the First Minister wants to be remembered for doing some good in her period in charge then she needs to stop treating the constitution like a children’s game, and start governing for all of Scotland’s people.

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

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