Kenny MacAskill: Sturgeon should call independence referendum now

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It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to press the button on IndyRef2, even though it’s not going to take place any time soon.

The reason it won’t be immediately is that the Section 30 order required to hold one will be refused by Theresa May – if she’s still in office – or by another Prime Minister. But it’s still time tactically and politically to do so.

Nicola Sturgeon is facing fresh calls from senior figures in the Nationalist movement to press ahead with a second referendum on Scottish independence amid claims the British state is in 'meltdown'.

Nicola Sturgeon is facing fresh calls from senior figures in the Nationalist movement to press ahead with a second referendum on Scottish independence amid claims the British state is in 'meltdown'.

The British state is melting down, with neither the Prime Minister nor Government looking remotely strong or stable and the alternatives equally depressing. The supposed certainties of remaining in the Union that persuaded many back in 2014 have been blown asunder.

EU membership, economic security and even the respect agenda have been shown to be tenuous, if not non-existent. Far from providing the most powerful devolved Parliament, Holyrood is being marginalised and stripped of authority.

Moreover, a no-deal Brexit is looming, with all the economic and social catastrophe that it would bring. The supposed United Kingdom is visibly diminished in the eyes of the world and is being taken over by Little Englanders who care nothing about Northern Ireland, let alone Scotland, as they pursue their delusions of a restored Empire.

It’s time for the Scots to have the opportunity to reject that. The risks of independence are now more than overshadowed by the dangers of staying in the UK.

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The polls may not have shifted greatly, but the ground under Scots’ feet most certainly has and the opportunity to win independence has never been greater. From EU nationals to big business, circumstances have changed and so have many minds.

The rejection of a Section 30 application also offers political opportunities for the SNP. Arguments about sovereignty made by the UK Government ring hollow if it applies to Britain but not to Scotland. There is also hypocrisy among those seeking a second EU referendum but denying one on Scottish independence.

Tactically, it’s also needed for the SNP. They have both a mandate and majority for a referendum in the Scottish Parliament. If it’s refused, they can legitimately argue that the UK is blocking them and can then indicate that unless granted they’ll change the basis upon which independence can be achieved from a referendum to a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster.

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As the UK Government lurches from crisis to crisis, an election looks increasingly likely. Doing that would galvanise the independence movement that has started to fray at the edges as Nicola Sturgeon has prevaricated. It’s something not just the entire party but the wider movement could rally around.

It’s a pity that Ms Sturgeon has failed to address many of the issues that cost victory last time, establishing then apparently binning the Growth Commission. Similarly, her husband as SNP CEO has presided over moribundity at the grassroots.

But the time is now. The UK is falling apart and the independence campaign has been energised. Nothing is certain but it’s there to be won and the circumstances have never been better.

The author is a former SNP MSP who served as Scottish Justice Secretary from 2007 to 2014.