3x1 Blog

Campbell Gunn

Sturgeon U-turn on indyref2?

28 June 2017

Another Scottish independence referendum is a rather more distant prospect, following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

So was this a screeching U-turn by Ms Sturgeon, or simply a nuanced restating of the existing position? Well, that depends which newspaper, media outlet, or politician you believe.

Unionist-supporting papers were furious at the First Minister for not ruling out a referendum altogether, claiming that nothing had really changed, while Unionist politicians were claiming it was a massive U-turn.

Nationalist outlets – in the case of newspapers, that means only The National – claimed the speech was a rallying cry for Indyref2.

However, there’s no doubt that last month’s Westminster election, which saw the SNP lose 21 seats, has made the First Minister rethink her tactics.

“I want to reassure people that our proposal is not for a referendum now, or before there is sufficient clarity about the options,” she said. “But rather to give them a choice at the end of the Brexit process, when that clarity has emerged. I am therefore confirming that having listened and reflected, the Scottish Government will reset the plan I set out on March 13.”

So what are the facts? All that has actually changed is that the Holyrood Bill requesting the transfer of the power to hold a referendum under Section 30 of the Scotland Act, will not now be progressed. Instead, it will lie “dormant”, but will be available to be triggered whenever the First Minister believes the time is right.

In the meantime, the Scottish Government will attempt to influence the UK Government over membership of the single market, and will oppose a hard Brexit.

That is a big difference from Ms Sturgeon’s previous demand, the morning after the Brexit vote, that a referendum should be held between the autumn of next year (by which time the negotiations should be completed) and Spring 2019, when they are due to be ratified by the UK and the 27 other EU countries.

If no decision on actually holding a referendum is to be made until the outcome of the negotiations are clear, then that kicks Indyref2 at least a couple of years down the road. That’s because even if Ms Sturgeon asks for a Section 30 order at that point, it would have to gain both Holyrood and Westminster approval – not a foregone conclusion – before a campaign could actually start.

Nicola Sturgeon says she still believes such a vote will be held before the next Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021. If it is, it will be on a very tight timetable.

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