Six months ago, the headline on this column read: “Sturgeon ends kidology about second independence referendum”. That was clearly over-optimistic. Kidology is what she does.
Ms Sturgeon had just told an SNP conference there was no appetite for a second referendum until “the fog of Brexit clears”. Well, she got that bit right though the last time I looked, the fog of Brexit was still pretty pervasive.
With another conference in the offing, the kidology has been cranked up but the underlying message is the same. There will be no second referendum before 2021 and whether there is one after that depends on the outcome of the next Holyrood elections.
Conventional wisdom suggests Ms Sturgeon’s statement was directed towards those among her faithful who are itching to have another go. If so, she must credit them with an impressive capacity for suspending disbelief or else an appetite for thin gruel.
As I have pointed out previously, incidentally, the Holyrood poll was due in 2020 before being pushed back to avoid a clash with a General Election. That no longer applies because we had one of them in 2017. If Ms Sturgeon wants to seek a mandate sooner, she could ask MSPs to revert to next year. Why doesn’t she do that?
If there is a separatist majority in Holyrood after 2020/21, then the demand for a second referendum should be acceded to. That is straightforward democracy and it guarantees these elections will be fought around that issue. People will know what they are being asked to endorse or reject.
Ms Sturgeon should embrace that challenge and park her one-dimensional politics meantime. Instead, the depressing message from this week’s charade is that the revived kidology now seems set to dominate Holyrood’s dismal affairs for the next two years.
She set the scene for more concocted grievances, pointless legislation and subordination of all other business to constitutional manouevring – a sad but predictable way to mark 20 years of devolution. Scotland deserves better and urgently needs creative, radical thinking instead of this sterile obsession.
Ms Sturgeon seeks to present herself as a model of consistency in a sea of obfuscation but the evidence tells us otherwise. Every word she utters is dispensable once it has served – or failed to serve – its immediate tactical purpose.
For example, in 2015 prior to the Holyrood elections, she said: “To propose another referendum in the next Parliament without strong evidence that significant numbers of those who voted No have changed their minds would be wrong and we won’t do it. It would not be respecting the decision people made.”
At that point, she was fishing for votes from those who certainly did not want another referendum any time soon. Once the election was over, her noble assurances did not endure ten minutes. You do not need the side of a bus to promote downright falsehoods.
Where is the evidence? According to recent polls, support for independence has dropped below 40 per cent. Support for her stated objective of a referendum by 2021 runs at one in five. Whatever happened to “respect” and the straight-to-camera “we won’t do it”?
There are two plausible responses to the Brexit mess. The first is to say: “This is awful and Scotland must escape.” The second is to reflect: “Referendums are a curse and we never want to hear again from chancers who tell us how easy it is to break up Unions and overcome borders.”
So far, the latter appears to outweigh the former. That may yet change but I am pretty sure the transparency of Ms Sturgeon’s efforts to turn every issue – including Brexit – into an argument for breaking up the UK are being seen through as phoney by exactly the people she needs to convert.
A courageous leader could have told her conference: “There won’t be another referendum in the next few years and our future success will depend on making a much better job of using our huge existing powers than is currently the perception.”
But what would a one-trick pony find to do next?