IT is a courageous moment to launch a referendum campaign, in the midst of a global energy price shock, a UK cost of living crisis, and a European war. But Nicola Sturgeon has made her bed and now she has to lie in it, however uncomfortable the mattress.

That’s if yesterday’s launch of the Panglossian case for independence, Wealthier, Happier, Fairer, was indeed the start of a campaign worth the name. We have been here before.

Ms Sturgeon insisted yesterday that a referendum will take place next year, but gave no reasons why Westminster should suddenly stop saying now is not the time for one.

To be sure, she had to do something. The serial “resets” of Indyref2 since 2017 were becoming an embarrassment and fracturing the independence movement, also giving a whole new meaning to the term “neverendum”. But what a ground upon which to fight a constitutional battle.

Just take the Northern Ireland border row, which threatens to become a trade war after Boris Johnson’s repudiation of his own NI Protocol.

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The First Minister appears to regard that protocol, complete with hard border, as an argument FOR independence. She scolded Boris Johnson for trying to amend it to avoid there being such a border within the UK.  

Yet she is trying to do exactly the same with the post-independence Scotland-UK border: to wish it away.  

Yesterday, answering repeated questions from the press, she could not bring herself even to use the “b” word – admitting only that there would be regulatory “issues”.

Damn straight there would – and far greater than those that have caused a crisis in Northern Ireland which threatens the peace of the Province.

It was breathtaking to hear Ms Sturgeon repeatedly chastise Mr Johnson for lacking “basic honesty” about the consequences of Brexit being a hard border in the Irish Sea, while she was refusing to come clean about the consequences of Indyref2 being a hard border at Carlisle.

Having listened to many of Ms Sturgeon’s speeches and interviews over the last 30 years, I know just how she can speak with true conviction and confidence. I did not hear that from the FM yesterday.

I heard evasion and bluster. Mr Johnson’s personality, and his penchant for parties, does not constitute a case for independence. Nor are fanciful comparisons with countries which do not face the immense challenges with which Scotland is currently burdened – not least a substantial spending deficit.

The SNP and the Yes campaign must realise, as Alex Salmond has, that there can be no coherent or honest independence campaign unless and until the SNP leadership engages with constitutional reality.

It must make a positive case for this border – assuming there is such a case – and not rely on obfuscatory euphemisms.

The beauty of the 2014 independence prospectus, as set out so cogently in the 2013 Independence White Paper, was that there would be no hard border with England and no need for a separate Scottish currency.

Both Scotland and England, it was assumed, would remain in full regulatory and customs alignment as members of the European single market. Both would continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership with a secure opt-out from the euro. That was the premise of Independence in Europe.

The truth is Ms Sturgeon doesn’t want a hard border in the UK any more than do the Ulster Unionists. The First Minister has always insisted, as Brexiters did before 2016, that there “needn’t be” a border.

It’ll all be sorted with technology and goodwill. Yet, the European Single Market, which an independent Scotland intends to join, requires a hard regulatory and customs border with countries not part of it.

The EU is a protectionist bloc that seeks to protect European producers from foreign competition by imposing tariffs and bureaucratic non-tariff barriers on goods entering the single market area. It doesn’t believe in free trade – except between member states. And the UK isn’t one of them.

An SNP candidate, Emma Harper, unwisely remarked last year that a hard border with England would “create jobs”. She’s right. Armies of pen pushers and customs snoopers are needed to process the myriad checks applied to every lorry that enters Northern Ireland.

It is true, as yesterday’s SNP document says, that many small countries do well in the European Union, though by no means are they all as prosperous as Scotland.

But when countries like Finland joined the European Union they were not members of a pre-existing economic and currency union, the UK, which accounted for the vast majority of their commerce.

My own view is that, Scotland would be better off assuming direct control of its economic affairs in a new UK of autonomous nations. The present dependency relationship with the rest of Britain through Barnett handouts is a large part of Scotland’s present backwardness.

The Scottish Government manages a distributional state, administering patronage to favoured groups. That is essentially why I supported independence in 2014. However, times change.

It was an offer the Scots couldn’t refuse – except that we did, and by a substantial margin, ignoring the warning in the White Paper that the referendum was “a once in a generation event”.

The SNP has not produced a new White Paper for an obvious reason. It does not wish Scots to compare and contrast with the changed reality of today. Ms Sturgeon hopes to slip out a series of apologias over the next few months to muddy rather than clarify the case for independence.

Indeed, it is hard not to agree with the Prime Minister that this is not a propitious moment for Scotland to leave the UK. We are emerging from a pandemic that isn’t over and falling into an inflationary recession similar to the 1970s.

Nor is it wise in the middle of a proxy war with Russia to repudiate Nato’s nuclear defence.

Presumably the SNP hopes that Scottish voters, disgusted with Mr Johnson, will persuade themselves that independence can magic away stagflation, the global energy crisis and the EU border.

However, I doubt that many Scots believe pigs can fly – even if they’re decked in Saltires.

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