Indyref2: Why has Sturgeon chosen to announce new vote?

Nicola Sturgeon has fired what appears to be her the starting gun with regards to a second referendum on independence.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the new vote today. Picture: Contributed
Nicola Sturgeon announced the new vote today. Picture: Contributed

The First Minister used a press conference this morning to criticise the Prime Minister’s intransigence over a separate Brexit deal for Scotland?

Ms Sturgeon said: “If I ruled out a referendum, I would be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come-what-may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be.

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“That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the First Minister. It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice.”

Nicola Sturgeon announced the new vote today. Picture: Contributed

But is this good politics from the SNP leader for whom independence has been a dream since she was 16? We look at some of the reasoning behind today’s announcement.

Why today?

As had been previously speculated, the First Minister was evidently keen to get her demands in before Theresa May formally triggered the Article 50 process.

May herself set a target of the end of March to start the formal exit of Britain from the European Union, to cheers from Tory activists in the Autumn.

Theresa May could block the vote. Picture: PA

As we’ve noted on these pages, speculation is rife that Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 this week, perhaps as early as tomorrow or Wednesday.

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As Ms Sturgeon suggested, it is unacceptable to the Scottish Government that they have no advance warning of when this announcement will be made.

Ms Sturgeon is clearly planning to steal a march on Theresa May, dominating the news agenda in the days leading up to the Article 50 announcement.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the new vote today. Picture: Contributed

The First Minister’s announcement, and the reaction of the Tory Government to it, could even lead to the delaying or cancellation of that Article 50 decision.

One constitutional crisis a week is probably about as much as Theresa May can deal with, and with Lords and MPs still disagreeing on Brexit, her big speech declaring intent to depart could be pushed back to next week.

Ms Sturgeon, emboldened by a seeming lack of clarity on Article 50, has seized the initiative and put Theresa May on the back foot in what was supposed to be the Prime Minister’s biggest week.

Theresa May could block the vote. Picture: PA

Can it be stopped?

This wasn’t as black-and-white an announcement as it appeared to be – it was certainly much further removed from the announcement in 2013 which was literally cast in steel.

Ms Sturgeon maintained that her door was open should the UK Government reverse what she cast as an obtuse approach to giving Scotland a bespoke Brexit deal.

That seems unlikely. The real battle, and the real threat to Sturgeon’s window of holding a vote between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 is the Tory Government’s refusal to transfer the power to hold a referendum to Scotland.

In 2014, that was achieved by a Section 30 order, and the First Minister is keen to repeat that process the second time Scotland votes on its constitutional future.

There has been no immediate response from Theresa May, although Tory MPs were briefed this morning to take the line that there is no desire to have a referendum in Scotland and that Sturgeon’s choice was the wrong one at a time of uncertainty.

To be seen to be “blocking” a referendum on Scottish independence, however, is a road fraught with danger for Theresa May.

Many pro-Yes campaigners would dearly love for an ‘unelected’ Tory Prime Minister to deny Scottish voters a say on their future.

In those circumstances, it is likely that Ms Sturgeon would hold a referendum anyway, although one that isn’t legally binding, and defy Westminster to ignore the outcome.

The ‘compromise’ that could be offered by the Tories, and has been briefed to right-wing newspapers, is that May will allow the vote, but only if it takes place after the spring of 2019.

In Holyrood, there will be no such stumbling blocks for the SNP. While Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour politicians will argue loudly against such a vote, the votes of Partrick Harvie’s Greens will ensure that the parliament backs holding a vote.

What happens now?

The ball is in the court of Theresa May, whose Government has released a statement that doesn’t quite say they won’t allow the vote, but that they are firmly opposed to it.

Sturgeon will make her pitch to MSPs next week to gain their permission to seek the Section 30 powers, but as has been noted, this will be largely symbolic with the outcome guaranteed in Sturgeon’s favour.

It will also be interesting to note if there is any rebellion within the opposition parties at Holyrood, with the weekend’s confusion over Jeremy Corbyn’s view highlighting the difficulty of Labour’s political position.

There will likely be something of a lull between that parliamentary vote and the response of the UK Government, as they work hard on a final Brexit deal.

Whether the opposition parties at Holyrood start to get on a war footing for another vote, or continue to oppose it happening, remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, there will be very few quiet days ahead for our politicians.