Scotland is in need of a break from endless arguments about independence, writes Ruth Davidson
There was, I suspect, an instant question from most people to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement at the weekend that she was keen to “re-start” the debate on Scottish independence – has there been a time when it stopped?
Perhaps I’m being harsh. After the independence referendum in September 2014 there were, I recall, several weeks when the SNP agreed it shouldn’t return to its favourite topic unless people made clear they had the appetite for it.
And then, to be fair, there was last summer when Nicola Sturgeon – fresh from having lost 21 seats at Westminster on the back of her demand for another referendum on independence – agreed to “re-set” her timetable on the issue. It led to the whole of last summer being indy-free.
Those few weeks aside, however, the promise made during the 2014 referendum campaign that this would be a “once in a generation” event has seemed hollow. The SNP has instead been hard at it: there was the plan for a summer independence campaign; that was closely followed by a(nother) national conversation, breathlessly billed by the Nationalists as the “the biggest listening exercise in our history”.
Famously, on the morning after the Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time in getting indyref2 front and centre, declaring in Bute House that she had already instructed civil servants to draw up the necessary legislation for a second referendum – all before most people had absorbed the night before’s result.
And now, this week, we reach another self-styled ‘step on the road to independence’ as the party’s long-delayed economic blueprint for independence is published.
Readers may recall that, back in 2014, Alex Salmond declared that the continued use of “our pound” would ensure independence could be achieved smoothly and without problem.
They may also remember that Scottish Government civil servants were used by the SNP prior to that referendum to write a grandly titled “white paper” setting out how ths could all be achieved. No matter. That was then, and this is now.
It is expected that the SNP will disturb Scotland’s half-term break to inform us that continued use of the pound may not, after all, have been the best idea and that a separate currency might be a better long-term option.
Out of the EU, in the EU, adopting the euro, binning the euro, keeping the pound, ditching the pound: it’s getting hard to keep up with the many and varied visions adopted by the SNP over the years.
Only two things have remained constant throughout all this time: Nationalist insistence that each of these plans was permanent and correct, and their relentless obsession with breaking up the UK.
As I made clear earlier this week, if the SNP does as we expect and demands another independence referendum then my advice will be to reject it, just as the UK Government did last year. So you can all see where this is going: round in circles. That, I am afraid, seems to be the long-term strategic destination of our current Scottish Government.
But let’s not be churlish, at least not too much. Instead, in a spirit of goodwill, let me try to find common ground.
There is always something to be gained by political parties offering considered analysis of future challenges.
And – leaving aside the question of the Union and independence – all parties are seeking to examine how best to meet them.
Under Lord Dunlop, the Scottish Conservatives have recently set up the Scottish Future Growth Council, bringing together figures from academia, business and industry to assess how we deliver sustainable growth. And looking at the challenges Scotland faces, it has reached some early thoughts.
Scotland has a long tradition of entrepreneurialism but we must do more. Our world-class academic research base must now be used to deliver wealth-creating opportunities.
And in order to boost productivity, the group has set out four key areas that require urgent attention: innovation and research, skills and education, nurturing and retaining businesses, and infrastructure and connectivity.
The group has set a big target for the party: rather than continually trailing the rest of the UK, it argued we should be aiming to consistently outstrip average UK economic growth.
We have a lot more thinking to do in order to meet that challenge – and in a speech next week, I plan to be talking more about how we get the economic growth we need.
But we are determined to show by the time of the next election that, as a party, we have a plan to run the Scottish Government, and unlock the growth that this country can deliver.
As I’ve said many times in the last two years, I don’t seek to underplay the challenges that Brexit will throw in the way of this as we prepare to leave the EU next year.
I simply ask: if Brexit is going to be difficult for us, why is leaving a market four times more important to Scotland – the United Kingdom – the right thing to do?
This week, it seems clear the SNP is going to offer up yet another attempt to answer that question. My advice to everyone else in Scotland is as follows: enjoy the half-term holiday break and leave them to it.