Keith Howell: Independence in the EU will catch Sturgeon out – people don’t want either

Nicola Sturgeon finds herself in a predicament, says Keith Howell. Picture: SWNS.
Nicola Sturgeon finds herself in a predicament, says Keith Howell. Picture: SWNS.

Dinah Washington sang ‘What a difference a day makes’ in 1959, popularising a song which went on to be covered by many artists, right up to the present day.

In 1964, Harold Wilson was credited with the political equivalent with the oft-repeated phrase about the vagaries of political fortunes, ‘a week is a long time in politics’.

Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon had such sentiments in mind when she made her recent indyref2 statement, feeling that another year or so would be plenty of time to turn round the predicament she finds herself in.

Last year, after the EU referendum result, she set the wheels in motion for a second independence referendum before it was clear if people wanted it, or that they would support it in greater numbers. Since then, neither the electorate’s reluctance to go through another ­referendum, or the current negative public perception of the SNP’s ten years in office, looks to be showing any signs of change. The SNP has developed a reputation for the divisiveness of its independence drive, whilst at the same time overseeing a demonstrable fall in the standards of Scottish education. Meanwhile, it continues to stir grievance over anything the UK government does or plans, most particularly on Brexit.

Any political party in power for ten years would struggle to ­disguise its shortcomings. The SNP is no exception. The evidence of the SNP government’s poor performance is clear across aspects of education, healthcare, and the economy, along with very specific concerns such as EU agricultural payment delays, problems with the Curriculum for Excellence and the ill-judged Named Person scheme.

These matters will require a total commitment to turn around, whereas the First Minister is reluctant to give such an undistracted focus. Instead, she appears most energised about using Brexit as a lever to break apart from the rest of the UK.

Every day of the coming year brings us closer to the promised autumn 2018 update from the First Minister about her specific plans for a referendum rerun.

This will presumably be ­proposed as a stark choice between a post-Brexit UK versus prospective independent EU membership. Yet there is no sign that the SNP intend meanwhile to reveal either how they would overcome the UK government’s rejection of a referendum rerun before the 2021 Holyrood elections, or how they would intend to deal with the economic practicalities of securing EU membership.

The fundamental conundrum appears to be that while Brexit is judged by the SNP as a means to engineer independence, the hoped for future EU membership would likely entail unpalatable economic medicine, in terms of currency and restructuring of public finances, that the people of Scotland would not be prepared to stomach.

Keith Howell is a business consultant. He lives in West Linton, Peeblesshire, and blogs on