27 Mar 2017

Team May: divisions over date of indyref2?

Theresa May’s team refused an invitation to meet Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Government’s offices in Glasgow. Instead they arranged a 30 minute meeting in a hotel room with a grand view of the Clyde.

It sounds as though the First Minister’s team emerged from the meeting none the wiser about Theresa May’s detailed plans for devolution and none the wiser on the answer to the question: if not autumn 2018/spring 2019 for a second referendum, then when? To be fair to Team May, it’s not clear that Team Sturgeon asked that question. There’s a vote in the resumed debate on a second referendum to be had at Holyrood first.

Some in the Edinburgh administration detect a division in the May team on when a second referendum might have to be granted. They think, as I mentioned last week, that the PM’s Joint Chief of Staff, Scottish born Fiona Hill, is one of those pushing for the whole idea to be shunted the other side of the next Holyrood elections in 2021. Some in Whitehall are thought to see that as unrealistic and suspect an earlier date will have to be conceded, even if it isn’t as early as the dates Nicola Sturgeon has demanded.

At Stormont, the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, has said that the collapse of power sharing needs to be repaired in “a short few weeks”. DUP sources are suggesting there are only three weeks to sort out Sinn Fein re-entry into power-sharing. Sinn Fein don’t sound convinced by that deadline and some who’ve watched talks stall and re-start for many years think Northern Ireland could continue in a sort of limbo, governed by civil servants, right up to the autumn of this year.

At the heart of all of this is whether Sinn Fein would be content with a re-entry deal that includes legal recognition for the Irish language and a few add-ons or whether the walk-out from power-sharing was actually dictated by a much deeper dissatisfaction with Stormont, a sense that IRA volunteers didn’t die for a Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister to hold office in perpetuity, a sense that the republican struggle needs a jolt or major advance, if necessary in a new direction.

The coming weeks may tell us which of those scenarios is in play.

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