The drums are beating. The Scottish press brings daily updates. Nationalists tell anyone who will listen that a second independence referendum is coming and my old friend Alex Massie reports in the latest edition of the Spectator that the case for such a vote is becoming unanswerable. At the SNP’s conference later this month First Minister Nicola Sturgeon must say something that moves it all forward, or risk upsetting her activists who are primed and ready to go.
There is one flaw, however, and it is, for the Nationalists, annoyingly straightforward. Nicola Sturgeon cannot call a Scottish referendum. The right to sanction such a vote does not lie with Sturgeon; it lies with Westminster and Theresa May, what with Scotland still being in the UK and the matter being reserved. The constitutional position is clear. Both governments have to agree to an order in council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act. Ultimately, this is Westminster’s call, and not Edinburgh’s.
This is not to deny that the situation is tricky. The headache for Theresa May rests on how to keep saying “no” nicely because being excessively dismissive risks further inflaming opinion in the SNP and the press north of the border. She must also decide whether to consider a UK-wide redrawing of the constitution as a compromise, or whether to say there can be a referendum only not until after Brexit is a done deal in 2019 or later.
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