James Forsyth

Scottish parliament votes for a second referendum - but Theresa May is unlikely to sway

Scottish parliament votes for a second referendum - but Theresa May is unlikely to sway
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The Scottish Parliament has voted 69-59 for a second Scottish independence referendum. This is no surprise. But it does lend more force to Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum. She can now say that she has her parliament behind her when she presents the UK government with her request for a Section 30 order.

Don’t expect Theresa May to move position though: she’ll stick to her line that ‘now is not the time’ for a second vote on independence. The UK government has been, privately, delighted at how May’s position has gone down in Scotland. They feel that there is no groundswell of support for another referendum, something that has been backed up by the polls.

The UK government’s argument that it isn’t fair to expect the Scottish electorate to vote until they know the details of the Brexit deal has logic and emotional and intellectual force to it. Sturgeon’s hope is that once the outline of the Brexit deal is public, it will become harder for Westminster to block another referendum. But there is ample chance that the details of Brexit will not be entirely clear two years from now. Tellingly, the government is tonight ruling out talks on another referendum until the Brexit process is complete—which could easily be after 2021 and the next Scottish parliament elections.

At the moment, all the signs are that Theresa May intends to stick to her strategy of fighting a second Scottish referendum by resisting it. Both her circle and the Scottish Conservatives, who it is worth remembering are the official opposition at Holyrood, remain convinced that one is not inevitable. The challenge for Sturgeon is to find a way to shift the famously hard-to-move May from this position. We can expect to hear more on how she intends to do that when she responds at Holyrood, as she has promised to do so, to the UK government’s rejection of her request for a Section 30 order.