Stur­geon fires start­ing gun

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - Jenny Hjul

If any­one was in any doubt about Nicola Stur­geon’s true in­ten­tions re­gard­ing her Brexit strat­egy, all was re­vealed on Mon­day morn­ing dur­ing a deeply trou­bling ra­dio in­ter­view.

Scot­land’s first min­is­ter did lit­tle to dis­guise the fact that she is de­ter­mined to hold a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum – quite pos­si­bly within the life­time of this par­lia­ment.

Her jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ig­nor­ing the will of the Scot­tish peo­ple – who de­ci­sively re­jected the na­tion­al­ists’ call for sep­a­ra­tion in 2014 – is Europe.

But, as she made clear on the BBC’s Good Morn­ing Scot­land pro­gramme, her mo­ti­va­tion is not to stay in the EU but to leave the UK.

Stur­geon has spent the past two and a half years, since the 2016 Brexit vote, try­ing to link Europhile Scots, who voted by a sig­nif­i­cant ma­jor­ity to re­main in the EU, with her in­de­pen­dence cause.

She fig­ured that all those who could not be con­vinced by Scot­tish na­tion­al­ism in 2014 would change their minds in the wake of the UK-wide Brexit de­ci­sion.

But she was wrong. Poll after poll has shown no shift at all in Scot­tish sup­port for the union, and the ‘Brexit bounce’ so longed for by the SNP leader has failed to ma­te­ri­alise.

So why launch a new drive now to force the is­sue? Although she didn’t ac­tu­ally an­nounce a date for Indyref2, she hinted that she wouldn’t wait un­til the next Holy­rood elec­tions in 2021.

“There is a man­date to have a ref­er­en­dum within this term of the Holy­rood par­lia­ment,” she said, adding that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment had “ev­ery right” to ful­fil that man­date.

This may sound like her fa­mil­iar re­frain, but it is more than that; it’s as if she has made a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to spell out her ref­er­en­dum agenda, then clamped her hands over her ears to drown out what she knows will be her fel­low Scots’ op­po­si­tion.

Those of us con­cerned about na­tion­al­ists’ dis­re­gard for pop­u­lar opin­ion hoped, per­haps naively, that Stur­geon’s po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence would pre­vail, and we would not be dragged into fur­ther con­sti­tu­tional dis­rup­tion while there was no chance of a sep­a­ratist vic­tory.

But the first min­is­ter ap­pears to be bank­ing on na­tion­wide malaise over the way Brexit has been han­dled and gam­bling on har­ness­ing this to her own ends.

Ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened over the last two years “has strength­ened and re­in­forced the case for Scot­land to be in­de­pen­dent” she said.

She blamed the Brexit vote – which in­cluded one-third of her own SNP con­stituency – on dis­sat­is­fac­tion with “UK Tory aus­ter­ity”, a cloth-eared re­sponse to such a com­plex cri­sis.

And she in­sisted that Scot­land’s in­ter­ests could not be pro­tected within the “cur­rent set-up in the UK”, but she then de­fined Scot­land’s in­ter­ests as be­ing in­de­pen­dent.

This is not the first time, of course, that she has con­fused her party’s pri­or­i­ties with Scot­land’s, but after all her years in of­fice she seems wil­fully ig­no­rant of what her coun­try wants.

“The sim­ple fact is that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Scot­land voted to re­main in the EU,” said Stur­geon, for­get­ting that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Scot­land also voted to re­main in the UK.

Her pol­icy on Theresa May’s deal is to vote it down and then push for a se­cond bal­lot on the EU. As she con­ceded, even if this did go ahead, the re­sult might be the same as in 2016.

If she really cared for Bri­tain’s con­tin­ued EU mem­ber­ship, she could have brought her par­lia­ment – pre­dom­i­nantly pro-Europe across all par­ties – to­gether un­der a strong Re­main um­brella and lob­bied to Scot­land’s (not the SNP’s) ad­van­tage in Lon­don.

But her one goal has been to dis­rupt the process from a par­ti­san po­si­tion. There is not much to be gained in hold­ing a se­cond de­bil­i­tat­ing EU ref­er­en­dum but it would cer­tainly set a con­ve­nient prece­dent for the Scot­tish na­tion­al­ists.

Who still thinks the SNP has Scots’ in­ter­ests at heart? Stur­geon was re­minded dur­ing her BBC in­ter­view about prob­lems in ed­u­ca­tion, with the loom­ing threat of the first na­tional strike by teach­ers since the 1980s.

And she was also asked about bro­ken prom­ises over wait­ing time guar­an­tees in the health ser­vice, after one pa­tient waited 849 days to re­ceive treat­ment for can­cer.

How can th­ese things be hap­pen­ing if the SNP is putting Scot­tish peo­ple and their in­ter­ests be­fore pol­i­tics?

That, Stur­geon could not an­swer. So she went back to her mantra – of Scot­land’s pow­ers be­ing eroded (de­spite her gov­ern­ment not us­ing the pow­ers it has, over wel­fare, for in­stance); of Scot­land be­ing spurned; of Scot­land be­ing ig­nored and side­lined.

This is not about Brexit, and it is not about Scot­land.

It is the sound of the fir­ing gun mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the na­tion­al­ists’ cam­paign for a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, whether or not the rest of us want one. You have been warned.

Her pol­icy on Theresa May’s deal is to vote it down and then push for a se­cond bal­lot on the EU

Getty Images. Pic­ture:

In the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple or pol­i­tics? Jenny has grave con­cerns after Nicola Stur­geon re­vealed her Brexit strat­egy.

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