Sturgeon's obsession with Indyref2 makes Scotland look very small on the world stage - Euan McColm

The world, as we in the west have known it for decades, is changing in front of our eyes.

As Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine continues, all we may be certain about is that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

A package of sanctions agreed by leaders of NATO member states may have put the Russian economy under extraordinary pressure but President Vladimir Putin shows no sign that he intends to call off his troops. Rather, in recent days we have seen evidence of Putin-directed war crimes.

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Nicola Sturgeon wears a face mask with a map of Ukraine on it as she meets members of the Ukrainian Community as she views donations at the Edinburgh Ukrainian Club on March 9. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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The shooting of Ukrainian civilians and the bombing of a maternity hospital are acts for which there must be a reckoning, but how we get to that point is not clear. NATO’s priority, right now, is not to escalate the situation to the point where Putin might launch nuclear missiles.

We stand on the brink of a third world war. Perhaps we are in its early days.

What has already become perfectly apparent is that the current international crisis makes the political obsessions of both the UK and Scottish governments look very small, indeed.

At a time when alliances have never been more important, the divisive politics of English Brexiteers and Scottish nationalists is simply exasperating.

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The populist politicians behind these dual separatist movements have succeeded by offering simple solutions to complex problems. Unhappy with the world? Simply vote to break with our neighbours and partners and all will be well.

If we needed proof that the world is infinitely more complex than Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon would like it to be, it’s currently being broadcast 24-hours-a-day on every news channel.

The current situation exposes the SNP's long-standing weakness on foreign affairs and defence matters. Early last week, the nationalists’ Westminster leader Ian Blackford restated the party’s opposition to Trident nuclear submarines and just a few days later, Sturgeon said that, while she recognised the risk of military confrontation between Russia and NATO if a no-fly zone were to be established over Ukraine, things should be “considered on a daily basis”. This apparent suggestion that the no-fly option should be on the table drew an understandably furious response from some quarters, with accusations of irresponsibility flying.

In fairness to Sturgeon, she was asked the question and she answered it. It would, however, be useful if the First Minister could exercise more caution when asked to comment. Yes, she is entitled to have her say. but she has no inside track on NATO strategy or intelligence. This being so, speculating on how NATO might proceed might be unhelpful to the organisation, right now. Sturgeon has no responsibility, here, but her words may have consequences.

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As we saw during last year’s the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the First Minister is adept at inserting herself in the story but, on this issue, where she has no knowledge beyond what she’s seen on TV, Sturgeon should guard against making proclamations.

On the biggest issue facing the world today, there is division within the Scottish Government. The SNP’s government partners, the Scottish Greens last week reiterated their belief that an independent Scotland should not join NATO. That’s not to say the Greens are completely meek. Minister Lorna Slater wrote a polite letter to the Russian Consul General in Edinburgh, inviting him to consider his position. So, you know, take that, Vlad.

The Greens’ failure to recognise - as Sturgeon does - the crucial nature of NATO marks them out as the profoundly unserious politicians they are.

Equally unserious is the First Minister’s continuing insistence that she plans to hold a second independence referendum next year. The Scottish Government may have prepared a referendum bill but it has no authority to run a referendum. As was the case in 2014, a vote on the future of the Union would require the permission and participation of the UK government. Neither was going to be forthcoming even before the matter of war on mainland Europe became a reality.

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Sturgeon should drop the pretence that Indyref2 is on the horizon and instead concentrate on getting the SNP into shape on foreign affairs and defence. These are going to be increasingly important policy areas in the years to come and the nationalists current incoherent pro-NATO/anti-nukes position is not sustainable. If the SNP is to lead a credible referendum campaign at some future point, then alongside answers on pensions and currency, the party will have to provide a compelling vision of national security in an ever more dangerous world.

Whether war in Ukraine ends next week or drags on for the next five years, its consequences will be felt for a long time to come. The humanitarian cost is already unbearably high. And there will be other consequences, too, such as the financial implications of Europe moving forward without access to Russian oil and gas.

The times in which we live demand a new focus on co-operation and alliances. Are politicians such as Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, populists who thrive on division, up to the challenges ahead?

As we watch devastating footage of bombed out hospital wards and apartment blocks and hear ever more disturbing threats against peace in Europe from an unhinged dictator, isn’t it time to think more carefully about the safest way to shape our world? Isn’t Russia’s war on Ukraine a reality check?

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In the greater scheme of things, our constitutional obsessions seem to me to be the height of self-indulgence.

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