Who would lead the No campaign?
So, Nicola Sturgeon has done it. She will seek the powers needed to hold a second referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country, sometime between Autumn 2018 and the Spring of 2019.
Her reason? Tory plans for a hard Brexit which the people of Scotland rejected in the EU referendum last year. The million dollar question however is whether she would win it.
On the first point, it’s not obvious as to whether the First Minister is making a shrewd move or whether she is jumping the gun. In 2014, Scotland rejected independence, with 55 per cent of the votes cast opting to stay in the UK and 45 per cent rejecting the proposition.
Since then, the conventional wisdom has been that the First Minister would need support for independence to be polling at around 60 per cent for at least a year before she sought the powers needed for the vote.
As of yet, no poll has put support at this level. Last week, a poll by Ipsos Mori for STV put the pro and anti-independence camps at 50 per cent each. A poll published today by BMG for the Herald newspaper meanwhile puts support for Scotland remaining in the UK at 52 per cent, with 48 per cent preferring the idea of going it alone.
The jury then is still very much out, and by seeking the powers needed to hold a second referendum, Nicola Sturgeon is playing a very risky game, not just with Scotland’s future, but with the fortunes of herself and the SNP more widely.
The next question is whether the Scottish government will gain the powers needed to hold a vote. According to guidance from the UK government, the power, known as Section 30, can be conferred on the Scottish government if it is approved by the Scottish Parliament and both the Commons and the Lords.
Unlike the last independence referendum, the SNP no longer has a majority at Holyrood. In order to obtain the powers therefore it would require the support also of the six Scottish Green MSPs. That shouldn’t be too much trouble given their support, outlined in their 2016 manifesto, for independence. The pledge they made reads:
“If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage. In such a referendum the Scottish Greens will campaign for independence.”
In January, Patrick Harvie, Co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party argued that an Autumn 2018 date for a second referendum was about right following the EU vote last year.
The question then would be whether the UK government, along with both houses of parliament would be prepared to block a move, requested by a majority of the Scottish parliament, to give Holyrood the powers to hold a second independence referendum.
Furious conversations will now be being held between Number 10 and Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland who last May positioned her party as the official opposition by painting them as the only unequivocal party standing up for Scotland’s place in the union.
That then leads to the next intriguing thought. If a second referendum were to be held, who would lead the campaign to remain in the UK?
With Labour north of the border in a complete mess, not least following Jeremy Corbyn’s deeply unhelpful contribution over the weekend, all eyes are likely to turn to Ruth Davidson.
Having performed well during the EU referendum, winning many plaudits for her performance at the Wembley debate, she is likely to provide stiff and determined leadership for those wanting to remain in the UK in a way that Scottish Labour is unlikely to be able to.
The jigsaw pieces have once again been thrown into the air. The question now is how will they land and what picture of the UK will it provide in the end.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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