Realising that she has become the only major British politician without a legacy-defining moment, Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for a second Scottish Independence referendum are once again doing the rounds. This recognition must be especially difficult for her to stomach, since she came very close in 2014 to causing the biggest constitutional disruption to the United Kingdom in its history, only to be defeated two years later by an equally significant referendum result on our membership of the European Union.
In my view, Mrs Sturgeon has been hypocritical in her approach to both referenda. If independence was her goal, then an important step towards achieving that would have been securing a Leave vote back in June. The unfortunate contradiction in The SNP’s position on sovereignty is that, for it to reach the jurisdiction of Holyrood, it must first filter through Brussels, which, of course, isn’t sovereignty at all. This is perhaps one of the reasons for Ruth Davidson’s surge in popularity over the last twelve months. She is at least more believable than Scotland’s current First Minister, who doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between countries ‘working together’ and the ceding of parliamentary sovereignty.
Her rehashed insistence upon Scotland becoming independent is at least partly down to a feeling that she has been left behind, ostracised from considerable political change taking place around her. It is well known that politicians are vain, and there are good reasons for this. They must have the belief and self-assurance that they can enact important change and steer the country on a new course. It is not a job for the light-hearted. Mrs Sturgeon, coming off the back of two, humiliating referendum defeats, is desperate to reclaim some of the spotlight, and for her to have any truly meaningful political legacy, she simply must be able to persuade Scots to vote to leave British union.
Without seismic victory (and no, The SNP claiming a vast majority of Scottish seats at the last General Election is not enough), she will go down as a noisy loser, who talked the talk but who was, in the end, unable to walk the walk. I should say that in principle I understand the desire for independence. As somebody who considers himself a prominent and fairly central Leave campaigner last year, anybody should be intrigued by the opportunity for their country to govern itself. The question, though, is on what terms independence will be delivered.
Even after the country’s historic EU vote, I do not think that Scottish people will vote for a cessation of Britain’s union. The economic case for doing so will have been immensely weakened by a shocking fall (only partially recovered) in the value of oil in the 18 months following 2014’s initial Scottish Independence vote, and by a weakened pound, cited by Remain voters incessantly as evidence that the Brexit vote was a mistake.
I also think that Scottish people have been made aware of The SNP’s rather cynical obsession with membership of the European Union, which, unlike Westminster, seeks to further integrate legislative power and remains opposed to any real devolution. This should act as a warning to Scots who are told that upon leaving the United Kingdom, Scotland will seek to re-establish itself as merely another EU province, only this time, lacking the presence that it had as part of the UK and faced with enormous pressure to abandon its currency and adopt the Euro.
So I think that Mrs Sturgeon should be careful what she wishes for. She is undoubtedly a talented politician, catching eyes during the televised leadership debates in the lead up to the 2015 General Election. But what she is not is a figure that has made an impressionable mark upon British politics. Yes, she has provided Scottish nationalists with an avenue through which they can pursue their patriotic utopia, but her insistence that she can change the political weather (almost Trumpian in nature) and take advantage of Brexit will not inspire like she may think it will. She can rustle feathers in Westminster all she likes, and between now and the next Scottish Independence referendum she will, but inevitably her vision for a Scotland detached from the United Kingdom will not be realised. And I think her desperation suggests that she knows this.