It may well be true that Nicola Sturgeon has the power as First Minister of Scotland to hold a second independence referendum – if not to actually act on a Yes vote – as constitutional experts believe. But just because one has the power to do something, does not necessarily mean it should be done.
Before the EU referendum, we perhaps had a different idea about the consequences of major constitutional change. What we have learned from the vote for Brexit is that it is likely to be a protracted, acrimonious and highly complicated process – with huge controversies breaking out over previously overlooked factors.
Scottish independence is unlikely to be any different. Had Scotland voted Yes in 2014, it’s likely we’d still be arguing over how to split up the UK’s resources and debts, cross-border trade and tax issues.
Surely, the clear lesson from Brexit – and Theresa May’s fundamental mistake in pandering to hardliners in her own party, rather than seek agreement from Remainers willing to accept the result – is that, if such momentous changes are to work, consensus is vital.
Nicola Sturgeon has called for “pragmatism and patience” from supporters, with SNP sources indicating the party will not seek another referendum until the polls show consistent support for independence of about 60 per cent. She has also stressed she would not hold a referendum without Westminster’s backing.
She is absolutely right. If Scotland is to hold another referendum – and many people think this isn’t the right time – it must be done in a calm, orderly way. Catalonia’s disputed referendum was a mistake Scotland should not repeat. Any new nation born amid division among its own populace and hostility from its neighbours is unlikely to prosper and its people would be the ones who paid the price.
Whether you agree with her or not, Sturgeon’s brand of liberal nationalism is sensible and canny. Let’s hope she sticks to it and declines to exercise the power the experts say she has.