Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

The great pretender: Nicola Sturgeon’s independence bluff

During the Scottish leaders’ debate, Nicola Sturgeon was asked a rather awkward question: what would she say to voters who want her as First Minister, but who certainly do not want another referendum, especially at such a delicate stage for the country? ‘What are they meant to do if they want you, but don’t want independence?’ she was asked. ‘They should vote for me,’ she replied, ‘safe in the knowledge that getting through this crisis is my priority.’

It’s amazing how quickly priorities can change. Sturgeon is already talking as if every Scottish National party vote was a demand for a referendum — and as if Westminster refusing that demand would mean ‘standing in direct opposition to the will of the Scottish people’. The SNP was outraged that this week’s Queen’s Speech, setting out legislation for the next year, did not contain a bill for a second independence referendum. This apparently showed contempt for ‘the priorities of the people of Scotland’.

The great Sturgeon bluff has begun — and it’s worth examining, because it will overshadow much of British politics for the next few years. The SNP has a story to tell: about an ancient union on the point of collapse, with Scots itching for a referendum and Boris Johnson running scared of their democratic verdict. But in fact the independence movement has seen its momentum slow and its economic case collapse. Sturgeon’s battle is now not with Johnson, but with the millions of Scots who do not want independence. But there are few signs of her changing her mind.

As Sturgeon knows, her version of the story is eagerly received in England and globally. ‘Independence wins in Scotland,’ announced Italy’s La Repubblica last week. ‘The Scottish independence party of Nicola Sturgeon emerged strengthened from the elections,’ said Le Point (technically true, insofar as the SNP gained one seat).

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