By Kirsty Hughes, Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations

RECENT polls show a substantial majority across the UK support a further EU referendum on any Brexit deal Theresa May brings home this autumn. Opinion is also shifting against Brexit with 53 per cent now supporting Remain, and constituencies that once had clear Leave majorities swinging to Remain.

Scotland, of course, voted remain in 2016 and that support has gone up since. A new poll last week suggested 61 per cent of Scottish voters, 78 per cent of SNP voters and 75 per cent of Labour voters (all excluding “don’t knows”) would support a people’s vote. Yet neither the SNP nor Labour in Scotland is demanding either a halt to Brexit or a “people’s’” vote. Both Richard Leonard and Ruth Davidson, for the Tories, have chosen to follow their UK party lines. And Nicola Sturgeon has gone from sounding, in autumn 2017, like she might imminently back another vote – calling it hard to resist – to a grudging suggestion, earlier this year, that it wouldn’t be the SNP who would block a second vote.

The reasons for this lack of leadership have been well rehearsed: the SNP not wanting to upset “Yes Leavers” nor to set precedents for a vote on a divorce deal ahead of another independence vote. All politicians deal in pragmatism – securing your voter base is vital. But a pragmatism that becomes an inward-looking passivity at a time of turbulent politics in the UK, Europe and globally is one that is opting out of crucial political debates.

In 2017, there was only minority support for another EU vote. Yet as the growing damage from Brexit hit home and chaotic Tory infighting occupied the headlines, voters shifted to supporting a second vote. Imagine the political dynamic and kudos the SNP could have got if it had led on a second EU vote from last autumn, ahead of opinion shifting. It would now be on the front foot, representing the majority of Scottish voters, and now too a majority of UK voters.

And halting Brexit is clearly in Scotland’s interests – independent or not. An independent Scotland’s top foreign and economic policy priority would surely be to do what it could to halt Brexit – to halt the damage to Scotland’s economy and security from a chaotic, unstable rest of UK. Nor would a “super-soft” Brexit of the UK staying in both the EU’s single market and customs union be stable. The UK being a permanent rule-taker in trade and regulations would rapidly become (or stay) a deeply divisive political issue.

But the SNP strategy appears to be one of passivity – even as we head towards a turbulent Brexit autumn. The goal perhaps is to benefit from Brexit chaos anyway. Or to see if an unlikely calm returns with a Brexit deal that passes at Westminster, allowing a focus on the detail of domestic politics and the next Holyrood election – and a delayed second independence vote.

But we’re not in 2014 any more. Brexit, Donald Trump, the migration “crisis”, growing populism in Europe have all happened. A Scottish politics that focuses only on the domestic, as if the outside world is stable and static or anyway beyond its influence, is a narrow regional politics failing to rise to the challenge of the times.

Brexit is part of Europe’s populist swing, connected too to Mr Trump and his damaging global impact. All this affects Scotland strongly. Taking a lead to halt Brexit is to engage in the fight against these damaging trends and to be part of defending and building a liberal Europe. The alternative of a pragmatic, passive politics is the wrong choice.