Paris Gourtsoyannis: Blind Brexit lets Sturgeon play out her hand

Nicola Sturgeon is playing a long game on independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)
Nicola Sturgeon is playing a long game on independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)
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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP know how to hold their cards close to their chest. For months, they’ve kept up the pretence that they were wary of a second referendum on the EU, worried that it might damage the case for the vote they really want – on independence.

They were never going to be able to keep that one up forever under irresistible pressure from inside and outside the party. But using the cute line that the SNP “won’t stand in the way” of a so-called People’s Vote kept up the suspense.

It also allowed Sturgeon, who has nothing new to say about the timing of indyref2, to show her hand on a second EU vote instead: SNP MPs will vote for it. Well, there was only one other option.

The other interesting language from the First Minister’s interviews ahead of her big speech today is around a ‘blind Brexit’ – the possibility of the UK and EU agreeing little more than Brexit divorce terms, and leaving the details of what post-Brexit trade will look like to thrash out later.

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If that’s what emerges from negotiations, then it might not be until the end of the transition period in 2020 that the true shape of Brexit emerges. There is even talk of the UK staying within the EU customs regime until the next general election in 2022, to allow time for the thorny issue of the Irish border to be resolved.

That could help give Sturgeon the justification to argue that another vote on independence must wait further – perhaps until after the 2021 Holyrood election, when the SNP could use the issue to try boost its mandate. The thinking goes that the naturally cautious First Minister, already burned by a failed push for indyref2 last year, will wait as long as she can before playing her cards.

For someone not known as a gambler, keeping everyone guessing that long would be an audacious bluff.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Brexit makes Scottish independence ‘inevitable’