Zero chance of a legal referendum, and Sturgeon and co are helpless

Nicola Sturgeon being feted by her followers, but she has no way to secure a legal ‘indyref2’.
by Colin Campbell

A SLEW of recent opinion polls have indicated there’s been a surge in support for independence, with the most recent last week topping out at 55 per cent in favour of Scotland breaking away from the UK.

Opinion polls? After they got the Trump and Brexit outcomes so hopelessly wrong there was a surge in scepticism and the widespread belief that they should never be trusted again.

But that’s all been forgotten now by at least some nationalists who are dancing in the streets of Raith over the pollsters’ latest efforts and their findings.

Their mood, to echo the immortal words of football commentator Ken Wolstenholme: “They think its all over, well it is now.”

But six of the past eight polls have been conducted by the same organisation, Panelbase, and the 55 per cent one was commissioned by the pro-independence group “Business for Scotland”.

It’s just so odd that groups who commission polls so often get the result they’re looking for. So the “Business for Independence” poll and others they’ve recently trumpeted have a huge questionmark over them.

On Saturday former Moray MP and ex-SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson got in on the act. After being humiliated in the 2017 election by the now Scottish Tory Party leader Douglas Ross, he runs something he created and grandly titled “Progress Scotland”, probably from a desk in his garden shed. He said “Progress Scotland” will be conducting more polls to assess the mood of the nation “in the weeks ahead”. So we can expect others to be sprayed around suggesting there is now an overwhelming demand for independence, and given publicity by credulous media outlets.

All this has a purpose. These polls enable leading nationalists to repeat the same mantra again and again in the hope that the more often they say it the more likely it is people will start believing it.

The first assertion is that “independence is now the settled will of the Scottish people”. And the second is that Westminster refusal to allow indyref2 is now “unsustainable”, or “untenable and unsustainable”, as Nicola Sturgeon declared last week.

A few days ago education minister John Swinney, who you’d expect to be keeping his head down after the school exams shambles, came up with a new line, when he claimed “Westminster now accepts that another referendum is inevitable”. Expect that to be added to the mantra list. This was based on nothing more than a throwaway remark from Government minister Michael Gove that “IF (Gove’s capitals) another referendum was to be held, Scots living in other parts of the UK should be allowed to vote in it as well.” Swinney twisted that into Gove accepting indryef2 as now being “inevitable”.

How fervently they wish these claims were true. But it’ll take more than a series of dubious opinion polls and bogusly misleading assertions to convince the majority of people that they are.

Nicola Sturgeon has assured her increasingly restive followers that an explicit commitment to another referendum will be in the SNP manifesto for next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections.

And it may be underlined with a marker pen and printed on gold embossed paper.

But that doesn’t take her any closer to getting one.

She may want to elevate next May’s election to “the most important of our lifetimes”, but that doesn’t mean it will be. It’s another contest for Holyrood seats, with winners and losers and an election night special on TV, no more and no less.

The more seats the SNP win the more elated they’ll be and the noisier they’ll get. But once they’ve settled down what happens next?

There will be a demand to Boris Johnson for a section 30 order to sanction indyref2. Will his opposition to it be unsustainable? Will his inevitable refusal be untenable?

Boris Johnson may not cut much of a figure hanging about a tent pitched by the sea in his summer holiday in Ross-shire but he’s still the prime minister with an 80-seat majority and no amount of scorn poured on him can change that.

If he decides to refuse to grant another referendum he will do so no matter how much outrage it generates from the SNP. And the irony that has Sturgeon and co. writhing in frustration is – the more likely it is that the pro-independence side would win the less likely he is to give them the chance to do so.

Sturgeon has already said that another referendum must be legal and the only way that happens is if it has Westminster approval. The nationalists could challenge it in the courts. But even the most self-important judge is likely to steer away from a decision that could lead to the break-up of the UK.

Failure to get a legal indyref2 would drive some nats into a frenzy of anger and frustration with unknown consequences. It would be a very volatile situation. But what do they do? Mass protests on the streets, or “peaceful” civil disobedience, as some are already advocating?

They could draft in the Black Lives Matter mobs from down south to liven things up a bit. That’d go down well with all the “undecideds”.

A pro-independence majority of SNP and Green MSPs at Holyrood could back a “consultative referendum” being held without Westminster permission.

But that would be boycotted or simply ignored by Unionists and the outcome would be meaningless.

The least likely twist in the saga – by far – is Boris Johnson granting a section 30 order for another referendum, which he has already said he will not back under any circumstances. His view – shared by so many – is that we had a “once in a generation” referendum in 2014 and there can be no concession to demands for a re-run after such a short space of time.

And no matter how many marches or car cavalcades or favourable opinion polls stoke up nationalist fervour, there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP hierarchy have any credible “plan B” to get a legal referendum.

That tousle-haired figure pictured beside his tent in Ross-shire may be mocked and derided and detested and loathed by them. But when not out camping he’s ensconced in 10 Downing Street – and no matter how much they hate to acknowledge it, he’s the Prime Minister and he holds the whip hand.



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