Tuesday 30 May 2017

Crafty Sturgeon leaves May in a tangle over how to deal with referendum

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: PA
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: PA

Michael Deacon

If Nicola Sturgeon gets her way, and Scotland holds a second referendum on independence before the UK leaves the EU, Theresa May will be forced to do the following.

On the one hand, she will have to warn voters that to walk out on a long-standing union with their country's most important trading partners would be an act of economic self-harm. In fact, it would be a disaster. Anyone who tells them otherwise, the prime minister must argue, is not living in the real world.

On the other hand, she will simultaneously have to reassure voters that to walk out on a long-standing union with their country's most important trading partners will not be an act of economic self-harm. In fact, it will be a success. Anyone who tells them otherwise, the prime minister must argue, is engaged in baseless scaremongering.

Mrs May has 18 months to work out how best to phrase all this. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with.

Yesterday morning in Edinburgh, just hours before the UK Parliament in London prepared to vote once more on Article 50, Ms Sturgeon made her big announcement. Glaring out from beneath her bearskin hat of a hairdo, she looked firm, focused, and beadily resolute.

Scotland, insisted the first minister, had no choice but to hold another referendum. And it was Mrs May's fault. Ms Sturgeon had done all she could to "find an agreement" with her that would let Scotland stay in the single market. But Mrs May had "ignored" Scotland. And, after all, "If Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the single market, our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue".

In short: this is all, apparently, about Brexit. Of course, opponents of Scottish nationalism may recall the amount of money that Ms Sturgeon's party, the SNP, spent on campaigning for Remain during the EU referendum. It was just £90,830 (€104,204) - less than it spent fighting a 2008 by-election in Glenrothes.

Why so little? Perhaps Ms Sturgeon assumed it was unnecessary to campaign any harder, because she was so certain Remain would win. I'm sure no Scottish nationalist was secretly hoping for Brexit, to create a pretext for another referendum on independence.

Still, here we are. The next Scottish referendum, Ms Sturgeon explained, must be held before Brexit takes place, otherwise it might be "too late to choose our own path". (She did not add that holding it later would be a risk for Scottish nationalists - because if Brexit proved an immediate success, that would wreck their argument that Scotland needs to be in the single market. Which is their justification for having a referendum in the first place.)

A journalist asked whether there was anything Mrs May could offer to make her back down.

"The conduct of the UK government," replied Ms Sturgeon simply, "tells me they are not willing to compromise." No doubt she's very disappointed about that. Somehow, though, she didn't look it.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in World News