Humza Yousaf has irreparably damaged the independence project

As the SNP gathers for its conference in Aberdeen this weekend, Humza Yousaf faces a sea of trouble. But worst of all for the party leader, he faces disillusion with the ‘divisive’ independence project itself, as expressed by Lisa Cameron, MP for East Kilbride, who has (uniquely in SNP history) left the party for the Conservatives. Don’t expect many to follow her path. However, she is not alone in rethinking her support for the SNP’s independence strategy. Others, like former Yes campaign strategist Stephen Noon, have been saying this week that the referendum route has become a dead end and that the SNP should revert to its older, incremental approach to

Money won’t keep the Union together

Despite its name, Gers Day is not an annual celebration of the Ibrox side that makes up one half of Glasgow’s notorious Old Firm. If only it were that uncontentious. In fact, Gers stands for ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’, the Scottish government’s yearly report on public finances. In a normal country, the publication of 76 pages of data tables and accountancy prose would go largely unremarked upon, so naturally in Scotland we have to turn it into another front in the independence wars. Because we really have nothing better to do. This year’s figures, like last year’s, reflect the unprecedented Treasury interventions during the Covid pandemic. However, they paint

Sturgeon is indulging her conspiratorial supporters

Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the SNP’s conference earlier this afternoon was mostly standard fare (Covid, climate, coalition with the Greens, Universal Credit) but towards the end, a section on Brexit and independence stood out. She told the faithful: Westminster will use all that damage that they have inflicted as an argument for yet more Westminster control.By making us poorer, they’ll say we can’t afford to be independent. By cutting our trade with the EU, they’ll say we are too dependent on the rest of the UK. By causing our working population to fall, they’ll say the country is ageing too fast.They want us to believe we are powerless in the

The rise of the Nationalist deficit conspiracy

On the face of it, the numbers are damning. The Scottish government has released the latest annual edition of Scotland’s public finances. It does not paint a pretty picture. Scotland’s notional deficit has more than doubled from £15.8 billion to £36.3 billion, taking the nation’s fiscal shortfall from 8.8 per cent of GDP to 22.4 per cent. This figure factors in a geographical share of North Sea oil revenue and compares to a UK deficit of 14.2 per cent. That is not only the largest deficit of the devolved era but more than double that seen in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009/10. If anything, GERS puts

Revealed: The SNP strategy for a second independence vote

A new leaflet from the SNP says another referendum on independence is ‘an issue of basic democracy’ and that Boris Johnson ‘is seeking to block the democratic right of the people of Scotland to decide our own future’. The eight-page missive, which I understand is being distributed initially to party members, is entitled ‘A Referendum for Recovery’ and features the ‘Yes’ branding of the SNP’s campaign for indyref2. The booklet is anchored by a short essay by Mike Russell, party president and former constitution minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved administration at Holyrood. He writes that the Prime Minister is ‘changing the whole foundation of the UK’ from ‘a voluntary union

Nicola Sturgeon isn’t serious about IndyRef2

The announcement reeked of desperation. Nicola Sturgeon is ‘delighted’ that the SNP National Executive Committee has approved her nomination of retired MSP and party grandee Mike Russell as ‘political director of the HQ independence unit’. The statement, put out on Twitter last week, aimed to give a sense of momentum and industrious activity: Russell at the head of an elite squad of Nationalist campaigners who will deliver on promises of another referendum.  The appointment of Russell is not so much a sign of progress for the Nationalists as confirmation that their project to break up the UK has stalled. It follows the resignation, after just a few months in post,

Ever weaker Union: The Tories lack a constitutional theory

No doubt Michael Gove is satisfied with how his latest comments on Scottish independence have gone down. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, de facto minister for the Union (even though that’s meant to be someone else’s job), told the Telegraph he couldn’t see any circumstances under which the PM would allow Nicola Sturgeon a second referendum on breaking up Britain. This is exactly what Scotland’s embattled unionists want to hear and seem not to tire of hearing, even though they hear it a lot. Sturgeon has obliged by accusing Gove of ‘sneering, arrogant condescension’, ‘completely refusing to accept Scottish democracy’ and helping ‘build support for independence’. And so

Westminster must avoid the Sturgeon trap

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

How would Whitehall respond to wildcat nats?

The SNP wants a second independence referendum. Boris Johnson has ruled one out. So what happens if the Scottish nationalists get a majority at Thursday’s Holyrood elections? Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that she will hold a vote — with or without Westminster’s legal consent. So Mr S decided to ask the Cabinet Office and the Scotland Office how they would respond to an unsanctioned Catalan-style referendum. In response to a Freedom of Information request, both departments said that they did not hold any contingency documents outlining the UK government’s response to an unauthorised vote. (It’s worth noting too that if such plans did exist, the departments would have to say so even if

Salmond will help the Nationalists, but Galloway’s party is bad news for Unionists

Two decades after devolution, the Scottish Parliament’s election system still confuses ordinary voters and seasoned political observers alike. Politicians on both the Unionist and Nationalist sides have capitalised on this complexity, putting forward new parties – most prominently George Galloway’s Alliance for Unity (A4U) and Alex Salmond’s Alba – that aim to game the system and maximise their side’s (on the matter of the constitution) number of MSPs by pulling regional list votes away from the major parties. But in fact, beneath its byzantine name and workings, Scotland’s modified d’Hondt Additional Member Electoral System translates to straightforward arithmetic, with a clear and inescapable conclusion: Galloway’s A4U gambit is likely to

Sturgeon’s rush for a referendum could backfire

The Holyrood election campaign kicks off with Nicola Sturgeon buoyed by James Hamilton’s report concluding that she did not break the ministerial code. Unionists in both London and Edinburgh have been taken aback by how decisively Hamilton stated that Sturgeon had not broken the code. But, as I say in the magazine this week, it would be wrong to think Sturgeon hasn’t been damaged by this whole business.  Voters feel that Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic should come first The independence bill her government published this week was also a misjudgement. It states that the referendum will be held in the first half of the next Scottish parliament. In other words,

Is Nicola Sturgeon’s loyalty her big weakness?

Loyalty is an important virtue. Indeed, it was loyalty to my former boss which led me to offer to act as Alex Salmond’s spokesman during his Court of Session battle with the Scottish Government. It was, at the time, a thankless task, trying to persuade sceptical former media colleagues that the whole affair was a stitch-up. Those same journalists don’t require much persuasion today. Once the Scottish Government belatedly conceded the errors in their flawed complaints procedure, at a cost to the taxpayer of at least a million pounds, and the accusations against Salmond were thrown out by a criminal court, the repercussions began.  The Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into how

Why should independence voters like me have to support the SNP?

Scotland would be an independent country today if only the SNP had made one simple promise. Back in 2014, as the referendum approached, it was clear that the party could win only at the price of its demise. Alex Salmond should have promised to disband the SNP if ‘Yes’ won the day. For those of us who disliked the SNP and Alex Salmond, but who favoured an independent Scotland, it would have been enough to bring us on board. Now, his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, is making the same mistake as she attempts to win a second referendum vote. The SNP, of course, doesn’t see things this way. Its supporters fail

Boris Johnson’s new approach to an independence referendum

Unionists are finding reasons for optimism when it comes to saving the union. As Nicola Sturgeon comes under fire north of the border over her handling of the Alex Salmond inquiry, ‘No’ has taken the lead in several recent independence polls. A poll this week for the Scotsman also suggested the SNP is no longer set for a majority in May’s Scottish parliament election; instead it predicted a hung parliament. Of course, the SNP could still secure a majority in the upcoming elections. If anything, that is still viewed as the more likely scenario by Tories in Westminster. This is in part why ministers are having to carefully plan their response as to what do in such

Why Boris Johnson must say no to a second Scottish referendum

It’s hard to believe in these early weeks of 2021, when the country is grappling with an unprecedented national health and economic crisis, that anyone could contemplate willingly throwing into the mix a constitutional crisis. Issuing a clarion call to break apart, when it could not be clearer we need to pull together. Yet that appears to be the course on which the SNP Government in Edinburgh is set with its 11-point plan for independence. For the UK Government to reject a demand to hold any time soon another referendum on Scottish independence is not, as Nicola Sturgeon would have it, ‘a denial of democracy’; it’s plain common-sense and the

Is the SNP prepared for Scotland’s next financial crisis?

As the world continues its fight against Covid-19, the Scottish National Party has been busy plotting Scotland’s exit from the UK. If the party gets its way and wins another referendum, Scots could soon find themselves living under a ‘sterlingisation’ currency system. The implications could be disastrous. It would be wrong to dismiss talk of another referendum as hypothetical. Powers over the UK’s constitution may sit with Westminster, but recent polling demonstrates a sustained (small) majority for secession. The SNP continues to ride high in the polls, looks set to win convincingly in May’s Holyrood election and has announced it intends to hold another referendum without UK government approval, if necessary. Boris Johnson’s ‘once-in-a-generation’ stance

Boris Johnson’s Scotland trip is a gift to the SNP

Boris Johnson is in Scotland today and once again this counts as news. This is intolerable to everyone. Intolerable to Unionists because a prime ministerial appearance in Scotland should be as routine as a prime ministerial appearance in the Cotswolds. It should not count as a newsworthy moment. And it is intolerable to Scottish nationalists because, well, because everything is intolerable to Scottish nationalists. The Prime Minister’s visit can hardly be deemed ‘essential travel’ in the current circumstances even if it is also essential that Scotland never becomes a no-go area for Johnson or, indeed, other cabinet ministers. Making it seem such, chipping away at Johnson’s legitimacy, is one small

Boris can’t just say no to Nicola

By May, the acute phase of the Covid crisis should be over. But the elections scheduled for that month threaten to throw the government into a fresh crisis. Nicola Sturgeon looks set to lead the Scottish National Party to a majority in the Holyrood elections. Given that the SNP manifesto will commit the party to a second independence referendum, she will claim this victory as a mandate for holding one. But no legal referendum can take place without Westminster’s consent, which will be refused. As Covid recedes into the distance, a fresh justification will be needed for saying no But, as I argue in the Times today, the danger is that

Here’s Nicola: can Boris Johnson stop Scottish independence?

Boris Johnson is far from being the first prime minister to holiday in Scotland. David Cameron used to slip off the radar at his father-in-law’s estate on the Isle of Jura, and plenty of other Conservative premiers have enjoyed a Scottish August on the grouse moor. But Johnson may be the first to holiday north of the Tweed as a matter of political calculation and convenience. He comes to Scotland to show his commitment to what he calls the ‘magic’ of the Union. About time too. At last — at long last, Scottish Unionists might say — the cabinet has recognised it has a problem in North Britain. Indeed, the