FRUSTRATION, desperation even, was the driving force behind Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to press the constitutional nuclear button this week but, sadly, it will do nothing to ease the deep divide in Scotland over its future; rather, it threatens to exacerbate it.

In her Holyrood statement, the FM accused the UK Government of “refusing to respect Scottish democracy” while, yesterday at Westminster, her SNP colleague Pete Wishart said the Conservative Government was trying to “legally imprison a nation in what is supposed to be a voluntary union of equals”.

Sturgeon has repeatedly insisted her Government has a mandate for Indyref2 but a poll yesterday suggested most people, 53%, were against holding one in October 2023 with 40% in favour with the rest undecided.

She explained her approach would be based on the “principles of rule of law and democracy”. But her opponents argue her actions show she respects neither.

On the rule of law. The FM has previously suggested the legislation regarding whether the Scottish Parliament can hold a referendum without Westminster’s consent is “contested” and has not been tested in a court of law.

The former involves the Nationalist movement itself contesting the point while there may be a very good reason for the latter: the law is clear.

The 1998 Scotland Act, which established Scottish devolution, says a law passed by MSPs is beyond their competence if it “relates to reserved matters,” including those relating to the constitution, most notably, “the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England”.

Of course, the SNP originally supported the terms of the Westminster legislation, the legal framework for the devolved settlement with all its limitations.

Its opponents will emphasise how, by not accepting these limitations, the Nationalists prove they do not believe in the devolved settlement, which is intrinsically about sharing power; rather, for them, devolution is just a means to an end.

It also seems clear the fact the Lord Advocate did not support the Scottish Government’s desire to proceed with its own referendum shows Scotland’s top law officer has serious doubts whether such a poll would be lawful.

An attempt by Tory and Labour MSPs to get Dorothy Bain QC to appear at Holyrood before its two-month summer recess to explain the legal process was blocked by the SNP and Greens.

On democracy. The 2012 Edinburgh Agreement which set out the terms of the 2014 referendum, said the two governments agreed it should “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”.

As is well-known, Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond campaigned on a slogan of “one opportunity” and promoted the vote as a once-in-a-generation, and even a once-in-a-lifetime, event to maximise the Yes vote.

It’s often an interesting experiment to consider for a moment the counterfactual. That the Yes campaign had in fact won the 2014 referendum but then, weeks, months and years later, the pro-Unionist lobby demanded another poll because circumstances had changed significantly and it believed independence was no longer a clear reflection of Scottish public opinion.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine what visceral response from the Scottish Government and wider Yes campaign such a request would evoke.

Also in her speech, Sturgeon came up with a Plan B if, as many expect, the Supreme Court rejects Edinburgh’s bid for Indyref2.

The SNP would fight the 2024 General Election not on the usual range of issues and the Scottish Government’s questionable record but on the single subject of independence, which, the FM argued, would turn it into a “de facto referendum” on Scotland’s future.

An attempt to try to dictate what should be debated in an election to the exclusion of everything else smacks of brazen arrogance and seems a crude attempt to simply pander to the disgruntled ranks of Yes campaign activists, who, we’re led to believe, are now planning a “summer of action”.

It is surely up to the people themselves to decide what the real priorities should be in any election. Indeed, the FM got short shrift from constitutional experts.

Professor James Mitchell, Chair in public policy at Edinburgh University, argued there was “no such thing as a de facto referendum,” stressing elections and referendums were “quite distinct”.

Professor Jim Gallagher from St Andrews University’s Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research, who chairs Our Scottish Future, the Unionist think-tank supported by ex-PM Gordon Brown, said: “General elections are not referendums and the SNP doesn’t get to make them so. The next one will decide the government of the UK and whether to remove Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Why would the other parties agree to make it about anything else?”

John Swinney, Sturgeon’s deputy, got himself in a muddle by suggesting the SNP would have a mandate for independence if it won a majority of seats at the next General Election, only later to correct himself and say he had “misheard” the journalist’s question and that it would, in fact, be a majority of votes; after all, his party would be treating that poll as a referendum.

However, when the Scottish Government suggests a majority of votes in its 2024 de facto referendum would automatically trigger negotiations between it and London on Scotland’s path to breaking away from the UK, the words ‘cloud,’ ‘cuckoo’ and ‘land’ spring to mind.

Whichever party, Conservative or Labour wins the General Election, they will do so on the basis of having in their manifestos a policy of not having an independence referendum in Scotland and will have a legal UK-wide mandate to pursue it.

So, Sturgeon can keep banging on the constitutional door but Johnson and any successor will simply refuse to open it. The key will remain firmly in their pocket.

A lot, no doubt, will be happening on Thursday October 19 2023 but, chances are, one thing that won’t be is a Scottish independence referendum. Which means, regrettably, the 2024 General Election could turn out to be the nastiest in Scotland’s history.

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