Scottish independence is not even in the top half-dozen priorities for voters in Scotland, yet once again Nicola Sturgeon used her speech to the SNP conference this week to bang the drum for another push for independence. She is obsessed.
Fixing the economy post-Covid? The mounting crises in the Scottish NHS? The appalling decline in Scottish school standards? The fact Scotland has the worst drug deaths record in all of Europe? Not problems for Nicola Sturgeon.
For Nicola Sturgeon everything—even a global pandemic—comes second to the crusade, the campaign, the cause.
It’s all posture, of course. Once again she is marshalling her faithful party troops only to march them halfway up the hill and abandon them there. There will be no second independence referendum any time soon. Not next year. Not the year after, either. She knows this. We all know it. Yet the pantomime continues—the pretence must go on.
There are three reasons why IndyRef2 will not happen on Nicola Sturgeon’s timetable. First, it is not what Scots want. They want their economy fixed, their health service repaired, and their schools improved. For sure, they do not want to be told by a patrician government in London that they can never have another independence referendum. But they don’t want one any time soon. They want it on the horizon, but no closer than that, thank you very much.
Secondly, there is no political consensus that the independence question should be put once again to the people of Scotland. Before the 2014 referendum, all parties agreed that the question should be asked.
The “settled will of the Scottish people” matters in Scotland, where that phrase is well-worn and widely understood. Scotland at the moment is horribly divided, like England was in the years following the Brexit referendum, when Remainiacs refused to accept the democratic verdict of the people that we needed to escape the European Union’s sclerotic institutions. Unless and until it is the settled will of the Scottish people to revisit the independence question, it will not be revisited, no matter how many drums the First Minister may angrily beat, and no matter how many hills she finds for her troops to camp out on.
The third reason is that small matter of the law. The UK Supreme Court (now presided over by a Scottish judge, Lord Reed) has gone out of its way to make clear that it will have no hesitation in holding the Scottish Parliament within the limits of its legislative competence. Any attempt to trigger a second referendum using Holyrood legislation would face two insurmountable legal obstacles.
Not only is the Union and constitutional powers the preserve of Westminster, but the Scotland Act separately insists that nothing in it changes the UK Government’s ability to make laws for the people
In other words, devolution is with us to stay and even the Supreme Court is in the mood to flex whatever legal muscle it needs to ensure that neither Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon, nor anyone else damages or dilutes Westminster’s reach across the country.
Without Westminster’s consent, prospects for a second independence referendum in Scotland are all but dead, no matter how much Nicola Sturgeon may puff and posture in front of her party faithful.