It seems everyone and their dog has advice to give to Nicola Sturgeon on the timing of a second independence referendum. They range from the credible – Alex Salmond insists now is the time – to the rather less than credible – Jim Sillars urges caution.
Within the SNP ranks at Westminster there is no unanimity. Angus McNeil wants the mandate won by the party in the 2016 Holyrood election to be deployed soon, whilst colleague Pete Wishart argues it should be delayed until Yes moves ahead in the polls.
Bloggers and elected SNP politicians are falling out. But who is right?
The answer is nobody knows. Nicola Sturgeon may be missing an historic opportunity to take on a Westminster political establishment at its weakest or she may be wisely resisting the desire to rush in too early.
What we do know is that Nicola Sturgeon intends to clarify her plans soon. Most have interpreted her words as meaning a Section 30 request will be re-submitted to Westminster. But what will that mean?
A Section 30 basically ensures Holyrood can legislate for an independence referendum, that any such referendum will be on sound legal footing and that the result will command the respect of both Edinburgh and London. Such an agreement would also ensure an independent Scotland would be immediately recognised by the international community.
If and when Nicola Sturgeon resurrects or re-submits a Section 30 it does not follow an independence referendum will be held. Why? because Theresa May can refuse to approve the request.
This is where much of the debate within the Yes movement is triggered. What should Scotland’s First Minister do if faced with such a rejection?
It’s widely believed Nicola Sturgeon won’t call a referendum, but will use the rejection as part of a strategy aimed at growing support for independence. This seems logical given the problems calling a referendum without a Section 30 will pose.
Those urging Nicola Sturgeon to use the mandate won in 2016 have a point when they say the SNP manifesto commitment should be honoured. After all, the SNP won more seats in the Scottish parliament than Unionist parties combined. The party stood on a manifesto commitment that pledged an Indyref should Scotland be dragged out of the EU against its will.
However a Section 30 request would be an implicit honouring of that manifesto commitment. If Theresa May approves the request then Indyref2 is on.
Calling a consultative referendum against the wishes of Westminster is within the Scottish government’s gift. However it is also within the gift of malcontents to challenge the legitimacy of such a referendum in court. Nicola Sturgeon would find herself mired in legal proceedings instead of fighing a campaign. The malcontents may also win their court case.
Thus, the Scottish government would risk losing a court case and leaving the public with the perception that it had lost the right to call another referendum whatever the circumstances. Unionists and their media allies would have a field day as they presented Nicola Sturgeon as the SNP leader who tried to hold an illegal referendum.
The more logical course of action for Nicola Sturgeon would be to present Theresa May’s rejection as a Tory Prime Minister refusing to recognise the will of Scotland’s people. The Tory Prime Minister who, having foisted Brexit on the Scottish people against their will, now compounds the insult by denying them their democratic right.
This leaves the obvious question. How then would any Scottish government ever be in a position to hold a referendum?
This is where real-politik kicks in.
Brexit isn’t playing out at all well for Theresa May. Which ever way you look at it it’s a catastrophe. A Section 30 rejection against this backdrop will resonate with Scottish voters who mightn’t [yet] be Yes voters … but who are looking for a way out of the Brexit mess … and who have just seen London slam a door in Scotland’s face. These voters are persuadable.
By hammering home the Section 30 rejection, Nicola Sturgeon will hope to highlight to undecided voters, or soft No voters, how Scotland’s voice is ignored time and again. Meanwhile the Brexit train hurtles towards the cliff-edge.
The strategy requires enough ‘Not Yet Yessers’ to commit to Yes if it is to succeed. Get these voters on your side and pressure starts to build that Unionists and their media will find irresistable. The Section 30 wall will buckle and collapse. A second independence referendum will be held and a Yes vote more likely than it would have been otherwise.
That’s the strategy. The danger of course is that it fails and the reluctance to hold a referendum in defiance of Westminster allows the 2016 mandate to expire. By then Brexit has normalised and anger has dissipated. The moment has gone.
It’s a risk. But we put our trust in Nicola Sturgeon when we endorsed her leadership of the SNP. She deserves our support. Whatever her strategy, we owe it to her and to the Yes movement to do what we can to ensure it has the best possible chance of success.