17 Mar 2017

Top No. 10 aide pushing for no indyref2 till after 2021

There’s a debate, not completely resolved, over just how hard No. 10 should push back the SNP on their chosen date for a second independence referendum.

Fiona Hill, Scottish-born No. 10 Joint Chief of Staff, has been pushing a harder line than some, saying that the UK Government should say that the SNP needs to get a fresh mandate at the 2021 Holyrood elections and then, if it can still muster a majority in Parliament, it could apply for a Section 30 order.

Others around the PM worry that could backfire and alienate wavering Scottish voters who aren’t keen on a vote now but could switch their views if they felt it was Theresa May and London ruling it out for many years to come.

The SNP is continuing with its vote at Holyrood on Wednesday on the timings Nicola Sturgeon demanded. But today, Nicola Sturgeon has signalled a readiness to discuss other timings for a referendum if No. 10 is up for that. I mentioned yesterday that I think the SNP leadership would count this opening skirmish a triumph if they could extract a commitment from London to allow a referendum later in the Brexit process, say 2020 or early 2021.

At the SNP conference in Aberdeen, the SNP leadership is coy about whether it would call a non-legally binding poll of its own if Theresa May continues to refuse an official one. You get the impression this is not a weapon they are ready to decommission but it’s  not their weapon of choice.

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