Press play to listen to this article
EDINBURGH – The Scottish National Party may be a happier crew than in recent years, but they are no closer to independence.
Armed with new lines – as well as some familiar arguments – aimed at convincing Scots of her vision for an independent Scotland within the European Union, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon used her conference speech on Monday to reignite a push for more outward looking towards a second referendum.
While around the same time last year, Sturgeon’s party was embroiled in internal bickering for independence and other sensitive political issues, the mood at this year’s virtual gathering of worshipers was at the height of good mood. Despite attacks by the separatist Alba party, formed before the legislative elections in May to run on a more radical independence ticket, the SNP was more united than it has been for many years.
By forming a party so critical of Sturgeon, Alba leader Alex Salmond may have done his former protege a favor by luring disgruntled SNP members out of his party.
However, united or not, the SNP still faces a major obstacle on the road to independence: the British government. Even before the Prime Minister finished speaking on Monday, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson had rejected his call for “cooperation” between governments on a second referendum.
Earlier this month, the SNP-led Scottish government ordered officials to resume work on a ‘long form’ pleading for independence. Now joined by another pro-independence party, the Scottish Greens in government, the SNP has said a new referendum should take place by 2023.
Johnson’s UK government has so far indicated that it will not grant a new referendum as Scotland voted to stay in the UK in 2014, although Scottish Secretary Alister Jack recently told POLITICO that another referendum could take place if 60% of Scots wanted one.
Path to a second referendum
As the debate enters a new phase, the main arguments of the independence camp can roughly be split in two.
On Monday, Sturgeon first demonstrated the SNP’s attempt to normalize the idea of independence, a technique popular with SNP technocrats who believe the Scots on the fence will be convinced of the merits of independence if they don’t see it. not as a radical leap into the unknown, but as an obvious adjustment that “works” for other countries of similar size to Scotland.
“For countries the size of Scotland, independence works,” Sturgeon said, sticking to the script. “It works for Denmark, for Ireland, for Austria, for Norway, for Finland – and for so many others alongside. They are disparate countries with different resources and economies, but independence works for all. The UK’s exit from the EU despite Scotland’s stay vote has helped the pro-EU SNP make that argument, as they now point to the price of re-membership being a bright spot for the EU. independence.
Second, Sturgeon called on the Scots to consider the alternative of remaining attached to Westminster, a more typically populist argument that is easy for the SNP thanks to Johnson’s unpopularity in Scotland.
Senior SNP officials lined up over the weekend of the conference to attack the Conservative government in Westminster on issues as diverse as the national insurance tax hike, Brexit and benefit cuts.
For his part, Sturgeon warned that Brexit “is a direct blow by the Tories on some of Scotland’s key forces,” even suggesting that “Westminster will use all of this damage they have inflicted as an argument for even more control over Westminster… by impoverishing us, they I will say we cannot afford to be independent.
In the aftermath of the speech, Scottish Conservative lawmaker Donald Cameron accused Sturgeon of inventing a “savage conspiracy theory”.
“Instead of focusing on the NHS crisis and protecting jobs, Nicola Sturgeon invented her own nationalist Fear project,” he said.
At the conference, SNP members passed a motion approving the leaders ‘plans to present a referendum bill to the Scottish Parliament, which, if passed, would see the Scottish government legislate for a referendum at’ the most early ”possible after the pandemic. If Westminster blocks this, the issue will likely be settled by a court to decide whether the Scottish government has the power to hold a legally binding referendum.
“It is in this spirit of cooperation that I hope the Scottish and UK governments can come to an agreement – as we did in 2014 – to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected,” Sturgeon said.
“But, this is clear. Democracy must prevail and will prevail, ”she added, signaling the SNP’s desire to bring independence to the courts if necessary. Pro-union politicians are quietly confident that any legal challenges will likely be settled in their favor.
Although some pro-independence supporters have expressed unease over the timetable and the lack of a Plan B if there is no deal with Westminster and the lawsuit fails, opposition to the proposed the leadership of the SNP from within the party was relatively limited.
While this is well received by Sturgeon, she has a lot of work to do to refute Salmond’s criticism that his quest for independence is like “Groundhog Day.”
POTENTIAL SURVEY ON THE SCOTLAND INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Poll polls.