James Forsyth

Westminster must avoid the Sturgeon trap

Westminster must avoid the Sturgeon trap
(Photo by Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty Images)
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The challenge for the UK government in the coming months is to make Nicola Sturgeon look like a constitutional obsessive. The SNP wants to frame the situation as Boris Johnson and the Tories denying the people of Scotland a referendum. The election results suggest there is no overwhelming clamour for a second referendum, with no SNP overall majority and the votes split evenly between pro and anti-Union parties. But UK government ministers should avoid giving the SNP the headlines they crave. They should side-step constitutional questions and instead emphasise co-operation on dealing with the after-effects of the pandemic.

Ministers should force Sturgeon to make all the running on the second referendum question. This could cost her politically — as Andrew Neil argues this morning — given it is not regarded a priority by most Scots, including a not insignificant chunk of those who voted SNP.

The biggest danger for the Union was always that any second referendum would seem like a confirmatory vote, that support for independence would be so high — think 60 per cent — that it was clear that its lead would survive the campaign. But with the polls showing Scots split on the question, and most recent polls having No ahead, this is not the case. But this makes it all the more important that the UK government doesn’t fall into the traps that Sturgeon is trying to set it.