James Forsyth

Boris shouldn’t rise to the SNP’s bait

Boris shouldn’t rise to the SNP’s bait
Boris Johnson visits Peterhead in Scotland, 2019 (photo: Getty)
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The debate over Scottish independence has gone rather quiet since the Holyrood elections in May. Boris Johnson is visiting Scotland this week without the issue dominating.

But, as I say in the magazine this week, the issue is likely to return to the fore this autumn.

Sturgeon is on the verge of doing a deal with the Greens which would give her government an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament. Armed with this, and given her activist base is increasingly impatient, she may move to introduce an independence bill this autumn.

This would be a deliberate provocation. The constitution is a reserved matter – and it is very hard to see how the Scottish parliament could legally bring about a second independence referendum. It will be tempting for the UK government to wade into this fight. But it shouldn’t overreact.

Why? Because a fight would serve Sturgeon’s purposes very well. It would rally her base, suppress any dissent over strategy and personnel, and move the debate from whether this is the right time for a referendum to whether the Scottish parliament has the right to call one.

The polling that both sides are seeing makes clear that Scottish voters want to see their two governments cooperating. For this reason, the UK government must be disciplined enough not to rise to every Nationalist provocation.