Thursday 13 August 2020

Does Sturgeon want indyref2 anytime soon?


Asking whether Nicola Sturgeon wants Scottish independence may appear to be the equivalent of asking whether Ian Paisley was a Protestant, but the issue isn’t so much what Sturgeon wants eventually. Unless she is a very good actress indeed, it is clear that she wants Scottish independence in the end, but does she want it now, or indeed in the next five to ten years? This is perhaps the most crucial question in Scottish politics.

I have very few contacts with politicians. I get an occasional message of support from someone very high up in Government, but that is it. Journalists almost never contact me. Scottish Conservatives of consequence neither follow nor interact. I don’t know any Scottish nationalists offline and my interaction with them online follows a wearying pattern. They appear on my timeline with insults, swearing or questions designed to annoy. I block them.

So, I have no useful sources. But I’ve never been very good with sources anyway. I’ve always preferred reading primary sources and using reason.

There is a vacuum at the heart of Scottish politics. It is the Murrell family. I know almost nothing about Peter Murrell or Mr Sturgeon. There are few publicly available facts about him. But he is William III to Sturgeon’s Queen Mary II. Whether he is the power behind the throne or the power itself is unclear and doesn’t really matter. They both rule Scotland. One as Godmother, the other as consiglieri. The vacuum is that we know almost nothing about what is going on inside the heads of these two people.

The façade is that Sturgeon does everything in order to further her goal of independence. She has since 2014 almost continually demanded a second referendum. Every now and again as in 2016 after the Brexit referendum she gets very angry indeed and really, really means it. But did she?

The surge in support for the SNP after 2014 means that it is hard to imagine them coming second in any election in Scotland. This applies not merely to the present situation; it also applies if Scotland were ever to become independent. Sturgeon would be the equivalent of De Valera ruling virtually unopposed for life. The idea that after independence we would all return to Right/Left Labour and Conservative as some independence supporters hope is preposterous. We would have permanent SNP Government with no challenger for decades.

But Sturgeon knows that a second independence referendum is a coin toss. She has the emotional argument, which is always the best argument, and nationalism is the best card in the political deck, but she lacks the intellectual argument. The SNP are unable to provide convincing answers to the sort of questions that a campaign would give. Most SNP voters would not care, but there are still lots of Scots who do care, and we would perhaps amount to a majority. If there were a charismatic Scottish politician who could make these arguments, there is every chance that Sturgeon would lose. If she lost twice, she would be finished.

So, on the one hand we have Sturgeon in permanent power in a devolved parliament and on the other Sturgeon having achieved her lifetime goal of Scottish independence in permanent power then too. But getting from the one to the other involves a coin toss where if she loses, she not merely loses all her power, but probably makes it impossible for anyone to achieve independence in her lifetime. This is the dilemma that is at the heart of the vacuum in Scottish politics that is Sturgeon.

The Murrell family must be astute enough to realise that it is hard to imagine a less auspicious moment for Scotland to become independent. Covid has done more damage to the British economy than anything other than a World War. The wreckage of the Scottish economy is going to be even worse, because Sturgeon’s ultra-caution will mean that we recover more slowly than the rest of Britain.

The idea that in 2021 we have a referendum on independence is completely stupid. The combined disruption of leaving the EU perhaps without a deal and the fallout from Covid which may still be killing people next year is going to be such that no rational Scot would set out on separation at that point. My guess is that Sturgeon is one of those rational Scots.

Why then do we have near continuous polling on Scottish independence? Where is that coming from? Why has everybody gone into full campaign mode for the Scottish Parliament elections next May as if the future of Britain depended on it? Why has Bonnie Princess Ruth returned from o’er the water to fight for the British Crown?

The reason for all of these things is the vacuum. Sturgeon needs Scottish nationalists to believe that she is serious about obtaining a second referendum otherwise she is liable to find Alex Brutus and Joanna Cassius waiting for her one dark night with long dirks. But she cannot be serious enough about obtaining a second referendum that she actually gets one.

What Sturgeon wants in the short term, the next five to ten years, is to build support for Scottish independence while milking the British Government by continually threatening it. She must be believable enough that the British Government do indeed believe her, otherwise her threats would be empty. This is why we have lots of newspaper articles and the return of Davidson. But Sturgeon must not be believable enough that she actually ends up ruling an independent Scotland still recovering from the economic costs of Covid, but with a regulatory economic border between Scotland and England, debts Scotland cannot pay and without our own currency with which to pay them.  Britain only remains solvent because we have our own currency.

If Britain were using someone else’s currency without our own Central Bank and debts approaching 100% of GDP, we would have a hole in the side of our ship and a rusty leaking bucket with which to bail out our country. Because we have our own currency, we can borrow at negative rates forever and weather the storm. Scotland could not, not because there is something wrong with Scotland, but because no newly independent country using someone else’s currency could bail itself out. It would lack the means to do so.

The SNP need a credible economic plan, but they don’t have it. The last one sank in the Covid Tempest. Until they have such a plan Sturgeon will not embark on finding her Brave New Scotland, but she must pretend to her fans that we are ready to depart tomorrow.

Scottish politics depends on us knowing nothing about what goes on inside the minds of the Murrells. It is for this reason that we do indeed know nothing. Do they merely want power? Is it all a lie? The pity is that we all have to worry about this vacuum that is Sturgeon’s mind, rather than actually getting on with our lives and doing something to rebuild Scotland.