Well, well, well… Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved government in Scotland will not – after all – introduce a bill for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Unveiling the SNP-led administration’s legislative programme at Holyrood, the First Minister had to admit that another voting on breaking up the UK is not on the cards.
To satisfy her supporters who want another immediate shot at it, the First Minister had to try to make it look as though she is not doing what she is doing, which is shelving the referendum because of the likelihood that she would lose. After a summer of giving the same speech, threatening independence imminently in the wake of the Brexit vote, she now says:
“We will consult on a draft referendum bill so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests.”
That is quite funny. Consulting on a draft is the government equivalent of a cash-strapped would-be tourist ordering a bunch of glossy holiday brochures and saying “we might go for St Tropez this year.” It is the legislative equivalent of one of the parties in a Glaswegian rammy, an altercation, wanting to make it look as though they are desperate to get at their opponent while making a lot of noise, shouting to their fellows “haud ma jaiket”, while not really advancing to full combat.
The SNP leadership is not stupid. Scotland voted in favour of staying in the EU, while England voted to leave. While that led to much speculation in late June that Scottish voters would switch to independence, it has become steadily more apparent that Brexit makes the task of winning a Scottish referendum more complicated, not easier. It may well be that the Scots do vote for independence, eventually, but first the SNP must think of a way to convince more people to vote for a different currency from south of the border, where 60% of Scottish exports. Might it be the euro? Or a standalone currency? The latter is more likely. Post-Brexit that could mean a “hard border” with England. Add to that the potential loss of an advantageous funding settlement within the UK, which insulates against shocks such as falls in the price of oil, and the need to fund Scottish contributions to the EU post-independence, and it all becomes something of a hard sell. Hence the announcement today.