It could not have been staged better. Like a general on the battlefield making a final appeal to her troops, Nicola Sturgeon’s use of the SNP’s annual conference to announce the publication of a draft bill to pave the way for Indy Ref Two could not be matched.
The legions cheered, ready to go over the top to convince us “free-dum” is worth any economic pain. And go over the top is indeed, as we learned the last time, what some of them will do.
The media swooned, and the further away from Glasgow it was reported, the more it was relayed as a declaration of war, a Brexit bloodletting, rather than a mere consultation of a bill that can have no authority to deliver a referendum without Westminster’s agreement.
Meanwhile, her erstwhile priorities of education, health and housing matter so little they barely got a mention in her speech. While food banks flourish in the SNP’s Scotland, which continues to suffer a slower growth rate than the rest of the UK – and is just about to introduce a punishing new tax on business – the first minister has made it her priority to drag Scotland out of the UK. Her regular jaunts to the capitals of Europe make for good photo opportunities, but don’t put food in anyone’s belly.
Sturgeon’s game these last three and a half months has been about trying to whip up hysteria to the point where people feel a genuine grievance about leaving the EU. Only they don’t.
Having failed to do that, she is now trying to whip up hysteria about leaving the Single Market, calling it the “Hard” Brexit of xenophobes. She says there is no mandate to leave because it was never made clear that that’s what would happen. Only, she’s wrong. It was not just Michael Gove and Boris Johnson who repeatedly said we would leave the Single Market, but David Cameron and George Osborne too. There could be no doubt from the arguments of both sides of the campaign that Brexit meant leaving the Single Market.
Where does that place Sturgeon?
If there is a Single Market that matters to Scotland so much that its leaving would lay waste to the economy, it is dragging it out of the genuine Single Market that is the United Kingdom.
The UK is how a single market is meant to work. There is freedom of movement of people and capital – with one language, one currency, one central bank, and a sovereign national parliament ultimately responsible for the common public finances. It also happens to have a common history and culture of over 300 years which to many, maybe most, people still matters.
It is because the EU’s Single Market cannot be that genuine model that it is doomed to fail. It has the lowest growth of any economic region in the world, suffers eye-watering unemployment – and countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal now have smaller economies than they did in 2009.
The first minister talks of Brexit supporters trading on xenophobia, but it is a strange understanding of the word when her definition of a “Hard” Brexit would make it easier for doctors from India and technicians from Korea to be welcomed to our shores.
A xenophobia where the UK trade secretary is discussing free trade deals around the world and seeks to free the poorest of nations punished by the high tariffs of the EU’s despicable Customs Union. A xenophobia that demands of us that we take our seat at the top tables of world institutions from which we have been absent for some 40 years, that we become truly internationalist, for without that approach our country will wither and die.
If that’s xenophobia, pass me the pen and I will sign up for it now.
Sturgeon talks of avoiding Hard Brexit, but what she wishes upon Scotland is Hard Indy. Her open door policies must, by definition, deliver a hard border, for remember, England is run by xenophobes. It must deliver a hard austerity, for Scotland’s public finances will become the economic equivalent of a scorched earth policy. And it will deliver a hard Scotland, which will be marked by bitterness and hatred, splitting families and communities – far more than we had a taste of in the last referendum.
Let Sturgeon have her consultation and then, with her cards in full view, after we confirm our “Hard” Brexit, let her call her Indy Ref Two.
There will be no hysteria, for the better prospect is for Scotland to be outside the Single Market and Customs Union – regaining control of its fisheries and much more – and being part of a true Single Market that can trade freely with the world, providing protection to all when the oil runs out and the coffers are bare.
Let her play her hand. Then we shall see just how good Sturgeon is.