Sturgeon calls for indy vote 2018/19
Nicola Sturgeon has pressed the button. Scotland’s First Minister wants a second independence referendum potentially as early as next Autumn. Nicola Sturgeon dared Theresa May to stop her.
No. 10 is sticking to its line that there should be no referendum until after Brexit is completed. But when I spoke to the Scottish Secretary David Mundell a short while ago I asked repeatedly if the government was 100%, categorically ruling out a referendum on Nicola Sturgeon’s timetable. Three times he ducked the question. Mr Mundell said the Scottish people didn’t want a referendum. I repeatedly asked what happens if Nicola Sturgeon shifts Scottish opinion and they back her argument for a referendum? He didn’t really engage with that question either. One SNP MP said he was convinced the Government would concede the timetable Nicola Sturgeon wants.
If the Government sticks to its line, would Nicola Sturgeon dare to call what London would insist was an “illegal” or unauthorised poll? Ms Sturgeon is insisting she has every right and a big mandate to call a poll so she might well call a vote even if London permission is withheld. That could be rubbished as a one-sided event with no formal No campaign but it would keep the pro-independence fires stoked.
At her press conference, Nicola Sturgeon was asked if Scotland could be sure of “full membership of the EU” if it left the UK. The first time she was asked about this she acknowledged there would be “a process of discussion” with the EU. The second time she was asked this question, Nicola Sturgeon said that, based on her discussions around Europe, EU countries were “open to the idea” and there was “warmth of feeling” towards Scotland’s position.
Pro-Union supporters say Nicola Sturgeon has no real clue what would happen to a Scottish application to stay in the EU and that she had no serious talks with serious people when she visited 5 EU countries. SNP senior figures suggest their soundings suggest a real appetite amongst EU members to accommodate an independent Scotland (and poke pro-Brexit England in the eye).
The SNP has opened the door to the idea of a Norway option, being in the Single Market but not a full member of the EU. Nicola Sturgeon said that wasn’t the preferred position and the SNP remained committed to full membership of the EU if it was possible to achieve it.
Senior Government sources in London have been regularly dismissing talk of an early referendum as a “bluff” for months. They only stopped doing that in the last few weeks. Cabinet was told two weeks ago that every Cabinet minister should think of pro-Union messages and implications for Scotland in all they do.
Compare that with an SNP who have been gaming this moment for months and working on strategies for winning a second referendum. They have been re-writing the Scotland’s Future white paper from 2014 which Nicola Sturgeon believes was too Panglossian. The economist Andrew Wilson has been working on a growth strategy for an independent Scotland which acknowledges there is a black hole in the finances of a putative independent Scottish state. Nicola Sturgeon told a press conference in Bute House that she would be “frank about the challenges we face”.
The SNP would not be taking this move unless they had quantitative and qualitative polling evidence to reassure them that, even with all the unknowns in play, they could win in 2018/19.
One senior veteran from the 2014 No Campaign said the only lesson he could think of they’d learnt was not to be too negative. He acknowledged that planning hadn’t really started.
Money has been raised by No supporters but with no clear idea of what sort of organisation will distribute it and mastermind a campaign. Nicola Sturgeon breezily referred to the “collapse of the Labour Party” which makes majority rule by the Tories a foregone conclusion stretching up to 2030. Labour, in part, blames its difficulties on having got into bed with the Tories in the 2014 referendum. It won’t want to share platforms with the Tories again. The messages from the pro-Union side could be very disparate.
There’s talk of a “no party” rather than a “cross party” campaign for the Union. That begs the question which non-politicians will front it. One of the lessons of the EU referendum, it could be argued, is that business voices are neither as reliable nor as convincing as some political strategists think. A few celebrities can add sparkle to a campaign but it would be a bold strategy to depend on them.
One of the pro-Union arguments would be “why now? ” Shouldn’t we let the dust settle after the Brexit convulsion? Could Scotland potentially be in some “limbo” state for years as the UK/EU negotiations over-run and the Scotland/EU talks could take years too? Nicola Sturgeon, again, tried to pre-empt those lines of attack, saying that Scotland would know the shape of Brexit at some point between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. The SNP believes that the pro-Union argument has lost the potency of “status quo.” A 2018/19 referendum would be a “change” versus “change” referendum, a point Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly drove home. SNP strategists are already talking about how they hope to pressurise older voters who backed No last time round into yielding the decision to the younger generation. In the final stages of the campaign the Yes campaigners would press the “it’s now or never” button.
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