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Scotland’s First Minister was defeated in the UK Supreme Court last week. Nicola Sturgeon wanted to test the idea the devolved administration she leads could hold another referendum on independence. This was always a ridiculous enterprise. Scotland is not a colony. It is a partner in the Union, which was endorsed by a majority in the referendum only eight years ago. Constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster. The founders of devolution never intended for there to be a “neverendum”, with the question being put endlessly until the SNP got its desired outcome.
Sturgeon herself used to say that a new referendum should not be run until there was an overwhelming demand in Scotland for leaving the UK. Opinion polls would have to show a clamour for immediate separation, something like two thirds support in opinion polls for a sustained period. It has not happened. Scotland remains divided on the question, with the Unionists often in front in the polls. There is no demand for a referendum any time soon either, despite widespread opposition in Scotland to Brexit, ex-PM Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.
Sturgeon responded to defeat last week not by seeking to persuade either the undecideds or the Unionists, her only possible route to a referendum. Instead, she dialled up the reckless rhetoric and said, bizarrely, that if she wins the next election that will be enough to declare independence unilaterally.
Outside the Scottish parliament last week the First Minister joined a populist demonstration to complain democracy is being denied. The mood looked angry, Trumpian. Furious bearded people whipped themselves into a frenzy of resentment.
And that’s where the risk of escalation lies. Since the Supreme Court judgment the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has, sensibly, talked about cross-border cooperation. Labour’s Scottish leader Anas Sarwar has called for calm, warning inflammatory sloganeering by Sturgeon risks encouraging further division and on the fringes even worse.
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Sturgeon has been First Minister for eight years now. Her strategy for delivering a referendum has not worked. Them’s the breaks in a democracy and the careers of leaders tend to end in defeat of one kind or another. There is a good way to lose, with dignity and duty done, or there is the Trump way. Sturgeon is heading in a Trump direction.
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