The political gamble of Ms Sturgeon’s life, or so says Alex Massie in the Spectator. Well, maybe. She hasn’t actually called anything yet, just flagged her intention to do so within a set timeframe. However…
Brexit, she confirmed, has changed everything. Before the EU referendum she had accepted there could be no grounds for a second referendum unless or until such time as there was evidence a significant number of Scots had changed their minds and were now prepared to back independence.
Those rules, those calculations, ceased to apply on 23 June last year. Brexit created an opportunity. Now she intends to take it, buoyed by the most recent polling which put support for independence on 50 percent.
Here we go again, then. Technically, Theresa May can say No. She can, if she chooses, tell the Scots that, actually, you cannot have your referendum. It is hard to see how that line can be held, however, given the precedent set in 2014 and the evident change in circumstances after Brexit.
Sturgeon’s speech is lengthy, but this section here underwrites Massie’s hunch that the Yes side’s preferred line will be Take Back Control. Sound familiar?
We didn’t choose to be in this position. In common with most people across the country, I wish that we weren’t. But we are, and the stakes are high – so we must have a plan for the way forward.
For better or worse – depending on your point of view – the future of the UK looks very different today than it did two years ago.
As a result of the Brexit vote we face a future, not just outside the EU, but also outside the world’s biggest single market.
In addition, the collapse of the Labour Party means that we face a prolonged period of uninterrupted and unchecked Conservative government at Westminster. Some predict that the Tories could be in power now at Westminster until 2030 or beyond.
And after a period which has seen the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and, more recently, hard won extensions to its responsibilities, we now face the prospect of a centralization of power at Westminster.
It has implications for our economy: for jobs, opportunities, public spending, and living standards – and for our ability to protect and advance our vital day to day priorities in education, health and business.
It has implications for our society – how open, welcoming, diverse and fair we will be in future?
And it has implications for our democracy – to what extent will we be able to determine our own direction of travel, rather than having it decided for us?
It’s worth repeating the last lines of Ms Sturgeon’s speech in this particular regard:
I know there are some who want me to rule out a referendum completely or delay the decision until much further down the line. I understand why some take that view. And of course, these views weigh heavily on me.
But so does this. And this, for me, is a key consideration.
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.
That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the First Minister. By taking the steps I have set out today, I am ensuring that Scotland’s future will be decided not just by me, the Scottish Government or the SNP.
It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice. And I trust the people to make that choice.
Challenges for Yes include the current state of the public accounts (they have a deficit touching on NI’s high levels), and the crash in oil prices. Interestingly, with the Euro recovering (don’t look too closely at Greece) currency choice may be less contentious than it was in September 2014.
The Labour party’s abject state allows the SNP to contrast their stated values and pitch it against that of more Brexit-minded England. That said, in Scotland’s current state the Nordic model doesn’t look like a goer this time.
The biggest problem is similar to what Republicans in NI currently face: ie, the necessary management of expectations. Earlier last year I argued (somewhere on Slugger) that if the UK could not be persuaded to retain the EU Scotland would have difficulty leaving the UK over it.
It’s not a clean, clear proposition, yet at least. Sturgeon cannot offer a clean choice between Brexit plus UK or Indy plus EU. Her government is aging and falling in popularity. She may not be able to rely on the “tactless bluster” and “near-colonialist arrogance and deafness” of the pro-union side.
And she’s facing an opposition of Scottish Tories, who are unlikely, as Scottish Labour plainly was, to be embarrassed by charges of ‘Unionist’ or acquiesce in the SNP’s former case for home-grown social democracy. However, they will have one clear message to broadcast:
Plenty of people who should know better will now suggest Sturgeon has blundered today. The economic case for independence, they will say, has never been weaker; the complications of EU-membership after independence never more obvious. And what, by jove, of the relationship between Edinburgh and London after independence?
All strong arguments of weighty concern. There will be many other imponderables too. But if politics is, at least in part, a matter of story-telling then one side has an obvious advantage. The SNP, it is clear, will fight this referendum – if there is, as seems probable, a referendum – on a simple, three word, platform: TAKE BACK CONTROL. Of course, such a simplistic slogan could never win, could it?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty