Tom Peterkin: Talk of indyref2 is premature

EXCITED talk of indyref2 may suit Nicola Sturgeon, but that does not mean it's about to happen, writes Tom Peterkin

Alan Cumming and Nicola Sturgeon on the Yes campaign trail in 2014. Picture: Robert Perry
Alan Cumming and Nicola Sturgeon on the Yes campaign trail in 2014. Picture: Robert Perry

In much the same way as clansmen of old took their claymores out of the thatch, hard line independence supporters of the ‘45’ are dusting down their Yes badges and unfolding their Yes-branded Saltires.

The idea that another bout of internecine warfare over the UK constitution could be on its way is exciting those who are sold on the idea that the Brexit vote will act as the springboard to take Scotland to independence.

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The escalation of Nicola Sturgeon’s indyref2 rhetoric in the aftermath of the Leave vote is firing their enthusiasm. There is talk of reconvening Yes Scotland. Sturgeon herself has suggested that the rematch could be as soon as the beginning of next year – if necessary.

All this comes at the height of a summer which pre-Brexit had already been earmarked by the SNP for relaunching an independence drive.

Originally it had been envisaged that the drive to build support for independence would be the beginning of a gradual attempt to win over No voters with a second poll held when the SNP number-crunchers were certain of victory.

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But the Brexit vote that hardly anyone saw coming has added an entirely new dimension to the fight for Scotland’s constitutional future.

Even though the SNP’s opponents will argue, correctly, that the Brexit vote was taken, and should be observed, on a UK basis, independence believers sniff a chance and want to make the most of it.

Their optimism is also fed by the turmoil that the Labour Party finds itself in. One by-product of Labour’s difficulties is that it is almost impossible to see the Better Together campaign coming together again as a coherent force. In contrast, relatively little effort needs to be made when it comes to getting Yes Scotland back up and running – and moves are already being made behind the scenes to do so.

As Brutus put it in Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Many independence supporters believe the pro-independence tide is nearing its peak and the SNP leader must strike soon before it turns back.

While Sturgeon has been dangling the indyref2 carrot in front of her supporters, she has also taken care to make sure that her rhetoric includes the idea that other options remain open.

She has expressed her willingness to explore the possibility of Scotland maintaining its relationship with the EU while remaining part of the United Kingdom.

In reality, however, that looks like an increasingly difficult trick to pull off. Notwithstanding the opposition that will be encountered from countries like France and Spain, Sturgeon this week imposed her own conditions for that outcome to succeed.

She set out the five interests she will seek to protect as the UK negotiates its way out of the EU.

As laid out by Sturgeon, they include the protection of Scotland’s democratic rights – making sure the nation’s “voice is heard and our wishes respected”.

She has also demanded the protection of Scotland’s economic interests through safeguarding the movement of labour, access to a single market and protecting funding for farming and higher education.

The remaining three points of the five were the social protection of workers’ rights, solidarity when it comes to tackling crime and terrorism and Scotland having the power to influence the rules of the single market.

Regardless of how desirable these demands are, the key point from a strategic perspective is that Sturgeon has placed the bar high. When, as is almost inevitable, some of these demands cannot be met, the SNP will turn round and claim that Scotland has been short-changed and argue that independence offers the only solution. It is a classic tactic that comes straight from the SNP’s play-book.

All this, however, cannot disguise the enormous challenge that Sturgeon still faces when it comes to chatter about an independence referendum. The big question is can she actually win second time round?

Although marginally in favour of independence, the polls are still close enough to suggest that the result cannot be called. The drop in the oil price has destroyed the economic argument presented last time round.

The question of currency is still a thorn in the Nationalists’ side. Opposition parties are already accusing the SNP of “snatching the pound in your pocket” amid reports that the SNP is looking at Scotland adopting a new currency pegged to sterling.

The SNP’s George Kerevan has acknowledged that the country would have to endure five years of cuts following independence. While depute leader contender Alyn Smith has warned that the SNP must take a more realistic approach to the EU warning that, contrary to the arguments put forward in 2014, an independent Scotland’s entry would be far from automatic.

Also to be considered is whether Scottish voters would take kindly to going to the polls again during the Brexit upheaval. While the public tries to cope with the fall out from exiting the EU, it is a big ask to argue successfully for the break-up of another political union which is much closer to home. The conviction politician in Sturgeon is happy to give the impression that Scotland is hurtling towards indyref2, but the pragmatist in her must know it is far from a foregone conclusion.