Question: should Scotland be an independent country? Second question: if there is another referendum, would the result “settle” the matter? Third question: can the issue of Scottish independence ever actually be “settled” or is this it: yes… no … yes … no … forever and ever? It’s quite a thought isn’t it?

The reason I’m asking all of this is that the Labour leader Keir Starmer was at the Forge Market in Glasgow the other day and seemed to suggest that the answer is “yes, the question of independence can be settled” and he wants to do it as quickly as possible as Prime Minister by boosting Holyrood’s powers without another referendum. “I think it’s very important to settle that issue,” he said.

This is pretty interesting stuff because not only does Sir Keir appear to think that the issue of independence can be sorted, he appears to think it can be done without another referendum, and there may be unionists who like the sound of that idea very much. Lots of unionists remember when support for independence was 30% tops and Scottish nationalism was something of a minority interest and some may pine for a return to those happy days. But can Sir Keir possibly do it?

To be fair to the Labour leader, you don’t have to go all that far back to find a time when the question did seem to be sorted and there appeared to be a settled will for the union. Yes, constitutional arguments raged long before 1997 but the argument was led by Labour and the Liberals and the focus of it wasn’t independence, it was home rule within the union. The 1997 referendum was also designed to deliver on the desire for home rule and, to an extent, put an end to the argument and move on, although we all know what happened with that.

Go a little bit further back and the question of Scottish independence seemed even more niche and remote. I once asked Malcolm Rifkind, who was a strong devolutionist, why he didn’t push for home rule more when he was a minister under Margaret Thatcher and his answer was that he didn’t because the question appeared to be settled. “It wasn’t dominating Scottish politics,” he said, “If it was, why weren’t 100,000 people marching down Princes Street saying ‘We want a Scottish parliament’?”

If the question is whether we can ever return to those relatively settled times when the constitution was not the burning central issue it is now, Sir Keir appears to think we can by effectively repeating more of the strategy that was used by Tony Blair in the 90s and by Ed Miliband in the days before the 2014 referendum. In other words: more powers for the Scottish Parliament and in Sir Keir’s case that could mean Everything But Independence.

Predictably, or understandably, many Scottish nationalists have reacted with scepticism, or cynicism, to Sir Keir’s remarks and with views on independence apparently divided 50/50, it can be hard to imagine that settling down. It’s also hard to imagine significant numbers of nationalists being happy with “Everything But” and being part of a new consensus in which independence is no longer the constant nagging question it is now.

But then again, the laws of political thermodynamics dictate that heat and energy in an issue cannot last forever and that must be true even in the argument over independence. There was a time in Quebec for example when the divisions over sovereignty were as tight, if not tighter, than they are in Scotland today and yet the most recent polls in Quebec suggest support for independence is back down in the 30s – in other words, back down to the kind of levels last seen in Scotland before the 2014 referendum.

Now obviously, direct comparisons between Quebec and Scotland are tricky – the party and political structures are different – but the general point is sound: even the most intractable and divisive situations can change and settle down and there’s no reason why Scotland should necessarily be an exception. The muddy trench we’re in now may seem like the new normal but normal isn’t always forever.

The problem for Sir Keir of course is how to get to the point where he can deliver on the promise he made at the Forge in Glasgow and we know it would require him winning a general election on an unprecedentedly high showing for Labour in England. The idea that he would then deliver on his promise and that it would settle the constitutional argument in Scotland also depends on significant numbers of nationalists – at least a third of them realistically – accepting the new constitutional arrangements and being relatively happy with them. From where we are now, it’s hard to be optimistic about that.

There is also the question of leadership in Scotland, which is absolutely critical to all of this. Nicola Sturgeon is not as effective or as powerful as she was in her early days as First Minister – her record in government and her failure to deliver on a referendum have eaten away at that – but she remains a formidable politician who has outlasted many, many Labour leaders. If Sir Keir really thinks there is a chance that his “Glasgow vow” will settle things, it is unlikely as long as Sturgeon remains First Minister.

Should she move on – when she moves on – it may be different of course; the situation could change for the simple reason that her successor is unlikely to be as effective as her (take a look at her colleagues if you don’t believe me). Sturgeon has often pointed out in Holyrood that the opposition parties are desperate for her to go and she’s right because they – and her as well I suspect – know that Labour would have a much better chance against another SNP leader.

In the end though, the biggest question isn’t whether the independence issue will be settled or even whether Starmer and Sturgeon could bring that about, the biggest question is whether it should be settled at all. Anyone who reads this column will know that I have not enjoyed the last few years – and lots of people who voted No in 2014 feel the same way.

However, I also recognise that the constitutional arrangements in the UK are by the consent of its citizens. Sir Keir may hope that he can “settle” the question of the constitution fairly swiftly if he ever becomes PM, but even if we hope that he does, we should also recognise that a question as important as Scotland’s future should never really be settled at all. We may – one day – be able to get on with our lives without thinking about independence too much, if at all. But it will never go away, not really. It will never be settled. And that, even for people like me, is a good thing.

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