Sinn Fein and the SNP launched their General Election manifestos last week, demanding that, in any future referendum, all four nations of the UK must agree to leave the European Union before it can happen.
If ever there was a policy that claims to be about unity when it is all about fomenting division, this is it – and it is a warning of what a Hung Parliament could bring.
I’m sure no-one needs reminding that it is the UK which is a member of the EU, not England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland individually. That means that, when it comes to our membership, it must and would be the people of the UK who would decide.
When Scotland voted last year to reject independence and stay in the UK, that meant the Scots believed the responsibilities of trade and international affairs should remain with Westminster. For SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to seek to repudiate the referendum result, by introducing a qualification about what being part of the UK means, is a betrayal of the Edinburgh Agreement establishing the terms of the referendum that her government signed up to.
That concordat – where the SNP got everything it wanted on the wording of the question and who did and didn’t get to vote – also included a section saying that everyone was to respect the will of the Scottish people. Sturgeon should therefore respect that Scotland agreed to remain within the UK, and that reserved issues, such as membership of the EU, remain the responsibility of the Westminster government.
Disagreeing about economic or welfare policy in this General Election is to be expected and welcomed – an open democratic debate is vital. But challenging how the UK conducts its international treaties was put completely beyond Sturgeon’s remit by her own electorate.
Imagine the outcry in Scotland if a UK Prime Minister was to say that, in any future Scottish independence referendum, all council areas had to vote unanimously to leave the UK. Demonstrations and protests condemning the arrogance of a British Prime Minister intervening in Scottish affairs would fill the media.
But the idea that Orkney & Shetland should be able to halt Scottish independence if the islands want to stay in the UK is the logical extension of Sturgeon’s argument that the UK nations should be able to veto Brexit.
Sturgeon has forgotten that a staggering 28 of Scotland’s 32 council areas voted No while only four voted Yes. Had the result been the other way around, would she have been happy that four councils could block Scottish independence?
Sturgeon’s motives in advocating this ridiculous notion are clear. Polls showing that Scots are slightly less Eurosceptic and might vote to stay in the EU, while England would vote to leave, give her an opportunity to cultivate division. Such an opportunity to play the Scots against the English is not to be missed, and she hopes to grab it with both hands. But she is mistaken.
The EU debate is so low-key in Scotland that it is off the radar – for it is crowded out by the SNP’s insistence on constantly debating independence. Yet there have been polls in the past showing a Scottish majority for leaving Brussels behind, and were there to be a full debate about the question the result could go either way.
Once Scots begin to consider the issues – such as the plundering of fishing grounds and the huge cost of the EU – they might reflect that the UK should be more like Norway or Switzerland and be outside the EU. They might also think it odd that SNP leaders object so much to so-called “London Rule” but are perfectly happy to have “Brussels Rule”. That’s a strange type of independence, what we might call independence-lite.
Sturgeon might also consider opinion polling by Business for Britain, which shows that the majority of the public in all four nations reject the views of SNP/Sinn Fein and support any EU referendum being decided by an overall majority at a UK level – by all the British people, regardless of regional variations in the result.
For many people, this may seem an irrelevant issue and just typical mischief-making by Sturgeon. But it is much bigger than that. It illustrates just what Ed Miliband and the rest of the Labour Party can expect from the SNP if he makes the mistake of relying upon nationalist MPs to govern Britain. The SNP wants a veto on all sorts of issues, from the question of our nuclear defence to what goes in the Budget. The list will be endless.
If no party has an overall majority, it would be better for the largest to form a minority administration – with the threat of another election if its Queen’s Speech is voted down – than be held to ransom by political blackmailers.
Visit our General Election poll tracker to see how the polls changed in the build-up to election day.