Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon leaves all the big questions unanswered as career-risking gamble turns into unstoppable snowball

The Scottish Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court could be viewed as a triumph for the union, as a last, fatal blow to the prospects of Scottish independence as movement.

Her decision to steer into the skid of a de-facto referendum at the next general election is a career defining one. It may even be career ending. But the question of what it actually is and what the consequences of it will be remain unanswered.

It is disingenuous of the First Minister to suggest it is up to the party to define on what terms a de-facto referendum will be fought given the fact she has been peddling the move since June. A fancy, one-day conference dedicated to thrashing that out looks impressive, but it could also be simply a rubber-stamping exercise of leadership plans, which buys Ms Sturgeon time.

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The de-facto referendum has turned into an unstoppable snowball hurtling down the hill towards the SNP, but no-one internally seems to have a clue as to what they can see coming.

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There will be much written on whether opposition politicians will ‘accept’ such a general election, but that will be a waste of words. It’s ultimately up to parties what they campaign on. It’s up to their opposition to undermine that approach and present an alternative narrative.

Significant questions about the effect of such a vote also remained unanswered by the First Minister. Will she resign if the party fails to hit the target? There is a feeling that is inevitable, and there was no slap-down of such a suggestion during her press conference.

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Will she work with other pro-independence parties? That also was unanswered, even if saying yes would result in a higher chance of success. Agreeing to that would, however, require a peace agreement with former first minister Alex Salmond. That will not happen.

Victory also does not guarantee anything in terms of independence. The UK Government under the Conservatives and the Labour opposition under Sir Keir Starmer seem happy to block any route to independence and it lacks credibility to suggest that position will suddenly shift.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh following the decision by judges at the UK Supreme Court in London that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a second independence referendum. Picture date: Wednesday November 23, 2022.

The legacy of the most effective strategic approach to protecting the union,of simply saying “not now”, continues to suit Westminster MPs of any colour bar yellow down to the ground.

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But unionists wishing away the constitutional divide, as is Labour and the Tory position, in Scotland is short-sighted and self-defeating.

The demise of the union as a voluntary partnership also poses risks. The SNP have set out their route to independence, as so often asked to do by Labour, and have been told in no uncertain terms there is no direct route through the devolved parliament.

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Why should Scotland, unlike Northern Ireland which has a defined route to independence, be subject to stricter rules than other parts of the union, the SNP could ask. This question must be answered by Labour and the Conservatives or their credibility as protectors of the union will lie in tatters.

SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon issues a statement at the Apex Grassmarket Hotel in Edinburgh following the decision by judges at the UK Supreme Court in London that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a second independence referendum.
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What Brexit’s ‘take back control’ slogan lacked in intellectual rigour, rhetorical power it had in abundance. The same, populist, approach to “democracy denial” could provide a simple, but effective message for a complex proposition which lacks serious answers to key questions.

Complacency around this defeat could spell disaster for the union.

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