James Forsyth James Forsyth

Don’t pick a fight with the SNP

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Since the Holyrood elections in May, the campaign for Scottish independence has been noticeably quiet. But that is about to change. This autumn Nicola Sturgeon will try to push the issue to the top of the agenda once again.

The expectation in Edinburgh is that Sturgeon will soon unveil a governing agreement with the Greens, which would give her pro-independence government a formal majority in the Scottish parliament. With that under her belt, and with her activists increasingly impatient for action, she may move to introduce an independence bill.

This would be a deliberate provocation. The constitution is a matter for Westminster — and it is very hard to see how the Scottish parliament could legally bring about a second independence referendum. It will, of course, be tempting for the UK government to strongly denounce the Nationalists’ behaviour. But one well-connected Scottish political hand says that would be a mistake. He argues that any independence bill would merely be ‘a lot of noise designed to rally their own troops and force the UK government to make a misstep. The best thing the UK government can do is not overreact’.

‘They don’t get it when I wag my tail ironically.’

Why? Because Sturgeon would have a lot to gain from a fight. First, it would give her a rallying point — one of the Nationalists’ great successes has been creating a series of proxy battles that unite independence supporters around the flag. It would also suppress any doubts within the party about her strategy and personnel, including the role of her husband, Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive. There has been disquiet, too, over allegations that money raised for the independence fight was misused by the SNP on an office refurbishment — now the subject of a police investigation. Once a bill for the referendum is in the Scottish parliament, it will be much easier to argue that now is not the appropriate time to raise such concerns.

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