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Ni­cola Stur­geon fi­nally ad­mits what has long been clear – there is no ap­petite for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, writes Brian Wil­son

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Among the clichés of Scot­tish life, none is more ir­ri­tat­ing than “the new High­land Clear­ances” when ap­plied by the in­tel­lec­tu­ally chal­lenged to cir­cum­stances bear­ing no re­la­tion­ship to the orig­i­nal.

No sur­prise then that Christina Mckelvie MSP re­gards Brexit as “the new High­land Clear­ances” on grounds so con­vo­luted as to be not worth re­peat­ing. So far as I am aware, not even Ja­cob Rees-mogg plans to burn us out our homes for vot­ing to Re­main.

Ms Mckelvie last came to this col­umn’s at­ten­tion when she tweeted that “union­ists will be a right mis­er­able bunch tonight” af­ter Scot­land’s mo­men­tous rugby vic­tory over Eng­land. I sug­gested she should be sacked as con­vener of Holy­rood’s Equal­i­ties Com­mit­tee on grounds that she clearly held some Scots to be more equal than oth­ers.

In­stead, in recog­ni­tion of her wit and wis­dom, she was el­e­vated to be­come Min­is­ter for Older Peo­ple, what­ever that en­tails. Some saw this as com­pen­sa­tion for the re­de­ploy­ment of her do­mes­tic part­ner, Keith Brown, who is now in charge of ad­dress­ing flag-wav­ing rab­bles in the pub­lic parks of Scot­land.

I do not sub­scribe to this the­ory and ac­cept that Ms Mckelvie was ap­pointed on her mer­its since that tells us a lot more about the avail­able tal­ent pool. At least it is to her credit that she said some­thing worth re­port­ing at the SNP con­fer­ence, even if it was on grounds of ris­i­bil­ity.

What of the rest? In terms of de­bate, it made ral­lies of the Tory faith­ful look like hot­beds of dis­sent. No de­bate was al­lowed on ei­ther “Indyref2” or the eco­nomic master­plan drawn up by An­drew Wil­son which prom­ises an ad­di­tional decade of aus­ter­ity in the event of in­de­pen­dence. And that was his good news.

The role of the SNP faith­ful is to pro­vide pa­tri­otic ap­plause but what ex­actly were they ap­plaud­ing? The dis­mal record on ed­u­ca­tion? The ruth­less treat­ment of lo­cal govern­ment? The cri­sis in Scot­tish health boards? The stag­nant state of our econ­omy? None of these was chal­lenged. Just a pro­ces­sion of empty boasts and set-piece speeches.

If a Labour govern­ment was do­ing a frac­tion of the dam­age to coun­cil ser­vices that is be­ing in­flicted by Ms Stur­geon and her col­leagues, there would be so much fire and fury from party mem­bers and trade union­ists that re­treat would fol­low. That’s what should make po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism mat­ter – but not for those whose sole fo­cus is the con­sti­tu­tion.

Be­hind the bravura and soft in­ter­views, there was one sub­stan­tive rev­e­la­tion – that “Indyref2” is of­fi­cially a mi­rage un­til “the fog of Brexit clears”. How they all clapped, spurred on by ap­peals to “pa­tience” and “vi­sion”, ap­par­ently obliv­i­ous to the fact that four years of ki­dol­ogy had just been de­clared null and void.

The “fog of Brexit” will not clear any time soon. With­drawal is sched­uled for next year with a min­i­mum of two years’ tran­si­tion, prob­a­bly longer. By then, I guess, some things will be bet­ter, some worse and none apoc­a­lyp­tic. The “new High­land Clear­ances” will not have oc­curred nor in­deed – in def­er­ence to Sir Thomas Devine – the Low­land ones ei­ther.

Ms Stur­geon has ac­knowl­edged out of ne­ces­sity what has long been ap­par­ent – there is no ap­petite for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, no con­ceiv­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for it in the midst of ne­go­ti­a­tions that will af­fect ev­ery as­pect of Scot­tish life, as much as the rest of the UK, and no prospect of any Prime Min­is­ter in his or her right mind agree­ing to it. So it has all been one big, on­go­ing pub­lic­ity stunt.

That begs a ques­tion, which is largely for Scot­land’s broad­cast­ers to an­swer. If the same non­sense kicks off again, ma­noeu­vring for the now of­fi­cially dis­tant ob­jec­tive of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, while Scot­land’s in­ter­ests in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and much else play sec­ond fid­dle, will Ms Stur­geon be treated with the same def­er­ence?

Mean­while, great to be re­minded there is still a place for grown-up pol­i­tics ca­pa­ble of good out­comes. If a change of pol­icy is forced on the fool­ish un­der­fund­ing of Uni­ver­sal Credit, to pro­tect those who would suf­fer, that will be worth wav­ing a flag for.

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