Supreme Court verdict rule against SNP but both sides running out of options

The Supreme Court verdict is in and it’s exactly what everyone thought it would be.

It turns out a referendum on Scottish independence, however advisory, could undermine the Union, and I for one am shocked.

Except I’m not, obviously, and neither are senior figures in the SNP or UK Government, with both sides expecting and quietly welcoming the result.

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For Downing Street, this confirms in their eyes that it’s a matter for Westminster, and for Nicola Sturgeon’s party, it allows them to complain further over a Government Scotland did not vote for.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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You see, and this is the side of indy you get fewer protests over, it’s less “referendum now”, and more “referendum at some point, if we can win”.

SNP MPs are sick of the UK Government, hungry for more powers and the opportunity to deliver the radical change they believe is denied to them.

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There is unity among the SNP ranks in Westminster, despite recent rumblings of a leadership challenge, and securing independence is still at the heart of everything they do.

But doing that means winning any second vote on the Union, meaning many want to put it off until it’s an absolute sure thing.

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More than one SNP MP has told me they don’t want a referendum until support for yes is at at least 60 per cent, however long that takes.

Asking them if they thought this vote would happen on the First Minister’s proposed date of October 19, 2023, would prompt a firm no, or more often, just laughter.

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With that in mind, they saw the court case as a campaign tool, something they’d lose, but would show intent, biding them time ‘til they’re ready to win.

Losing once is a blow, losing twice is game over, and in the immortal words of Marla Daniels from The Wire, “you cannot lose if you do not play”.

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Kicking the can down the road has been the tactic for some time now, trusting Tory infighting and economic mismanagement to drive support back up when the cost-of-living crisis really starts to hit families.

And the truth is, the SNP are running out of options. Without UK Government approval, there remains no clear route to independence, no matter the clamour in Scotland.

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A de-facto referendum through a general election is impractical, difficult to argue, and will only entrench support on the other side.

Beyond a surge of support so profound it becomes impossible to ignore, it is hard to see a scenario where Westminster grants a referendum.

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Successive prime ministers have insisted they won’t approve a second vote, which while some may argue as undemocratic, as it stands, remains within the rules.

The UK Government is also in a bind over the issue, telling people everything is fine while the SNP continues to sweep the Holyrood elections.

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Ministers cannot be content to see strong, but not quite strong enough support for independence. At some point they need to take a chunk out of that vote.

There is the view among some in Whitehall the tactic of delay is working, and Ms Sturgeon cannot go on forever.

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As things stand nothing has changed, everyone still feels the same, and this question is never ever going away.

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