The road to a second Scottish independence referendum

Nicola Sturgeon launched her latest bid for Scottish independence last week

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has launched her new bid for Scottish independence
(Image credit: Ken Jack/Getty Images)

Nicola Sturgeon is limbering up for battle, said Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. The SNP leader launched her new bid for Scottish independence last week “with speeches, a 72-page economic dossier and the promise of a referendum next year”.

It will be an uphill struggle. Under devolution rules, the UK Government needs to agree to the vote, and “it won’t”: it argues that the Scots roundly rejected independence in 2014. The SNP could, in theory, appeal to the Supreme Court. That’s “a long shot”, but say it works, and she gets her referendum, “what then?”

Polls show a slim majority for staying in the UK even now, after Brexit, an inflation crisis, and with a law-breaking old Etonian in No. 10. Barely a third want a poll next year. It would be different if the SNP had a decent record, after 15 years in power: in fact, it’s genuinely atrocious. Schools are in “decay”, drug deaths are the highest in Europe and public spending has reached 61% of GDP.

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Sturgeon’s independence plan now involves rejoining the EU, which would create a hard border with England and “massive and permanent economic disruption”. Project Fear is back, said Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman. Note the “profoundly unattractive” mixture of threat, negativity and insult in unionist arguments.

By contrast, the SNP dossier puts a very positive case, examining ten “comparator countries” – including Denmark, Norway and Ireland – which all have higher GDP per capita and lower inequality than the UK. And really, the unionist Tories who “gave us Brexit” have a cheek lecturing Scotland about the dangers of creating “a fierce EU border between Berwick and Carlisle”. Besides, it all depends how such borders are handled: trade is “largely frictionless” across the EU frontier between Norway and Sweden, for example.

The anti-independence parties are “running scared” of Scottish democracy, said Paul Kavanagh in The National. The SNP has been the biggest party in Holyrood since 2007. The current SNP-Green coalition has a “legitimate” mandate to seek a vote. Westminster cannot veto that and still hold to the “traditional unionist understanding” of the UK as a “voluntary coalition of nations”.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, Sturgeon knows what she’s doing, said Brian Taylor in The Herald. She wants to refresh the case for an independent Scotland. A series of papers on issues such as currency, the EU, pensions and the welfare state will follow. The idea is to “show progress” to her more plaintive, querulous party members; and “pick a fight with the UK Government”.

The big question that the SNP and the Greens are posing is this: if other smaller nations can thrive, then “Why Not Scotland?” Those words are likely to become the campaign slogan. And while the path to “Indyref2” could well be a rocky one, the “studied disdain” of the Tories along the way could bolster the SNP politically. What we’ve seen so far is “just the prologue. Act One and more to follow.”

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