Work on Scottish independence may 'resume', but this stalemate is going nowhere fast
Activists had to wait until near the end of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the SNP conference to hear about the next steps on independence.
There was the small matter of Covid, and the impact of the new variant, to deal with first.
No doubt the First Minister’s speech was rewritten more than once in recent days, and news of Omicron cases in Scotland will have provided a less-than-ideal backdrop.
There was also an important policy announcement in the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment.
But Ms Sturgeon insisted she “would not be discharging my duty to the people of Scotland if I did not seek to keep the promise on which we were elected – to offer the people of Scotland the choice of a better future through independence”.
She said the independence campaign would “resume in earnest” in the spring, Covid permitting.
"In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023,” she said.
"And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence."
This will include the "opportunities and advantages", as well as the "challenges".
There is much work to be done. The White Paper produced ahead of the 2014 referendum is now completely out of date.
And while Brexit provided the SNP with ammunition, it also presents its own problems, such as the thorny issue of the border between Scotland and England.
Then there’s the UK Government’s refusal to engage.
Addressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson directly, Ms Sturgeon said: “If you have any respect at all for democracy – and if you have any confidence whatsoever in your argument against independence – you too will let the people decide.”
This is the same Mr Johnson the First Minister said is part of the “broken, corrupt, self-serving Westminster system”.
If he doesn’t play ball, what then? A constitutional clash in the courts? It would certainly grab headlines.
But as the legal academics Professor Aileen McHarg and Chris McCorkindale wrote last year, whether there is a referendum and on what terms "is a political question that will be resolved in the political arena".
Work on independence may be resuming, but the constitutional stalemate is going nowhere fast.
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