NICOLA Sturgeon’s attempt to turn the next general election a de facto independence referendum could be the biggest disaster for the SNP since it boycotted the Scottish Constitutional Convention 35 years ago. Why? Because it is likely to turn into a referendum on Keir Starmer and he might very well win. Labour is 11% ahead of the Conservatives, according to YouGov.

Where would that leave Indyref2? Unionists will say: you’ll have had your referendum and you lost. It was anyway a huge ask to expect the SNP to win more than 50% of the votes in the next general election. They barely managed that in the 2015 tsunami when the party won 56 Scottish seats out of 59. It would only take a revival in the Labour vote to make it nigh impossible.

You cannot turn a Westminster election into a single-issue referendum for a very obvious reason: it’s about who governs in Westminster. Labour now looks a contender for victory for the first time since 2010. Not voting Labour might look like a “de facto” vote to keep the Tories in office – a Tory party, moreover, which is defaulting back to Thatcherism.

The Conservatives seem to think Boris Johnson fell because he wasn’t Thatcherite enough. Even Rishi Sunak is singing the praises of the Tory icon, who occupies a unique place in Scottish political demonology. “That Bloody Woman”, as Mrs Thatcher was called, was responsible for losing Scotland to Labour in the 1980s.

All the likely future leaders of the Tory party seem committed in varying degrees to cutting taxes, reducing spending on public services and pausing Net Zero. These are precisely the wrong policies to deal with the cost-of-living crisis because they will increase inflation and probably cause higher interest rates.

Come the next general election, the UK will likely be in a near recession, with public spending being slashed. In those circumstances removing the Tories from Westminster might seem the electoral priority to many Scots.

Just because Sturgeon deems the election to be about independence doesn’t make it so. It is actually the height of arrogance for a political leader to attempt to dictate to an electorate what it should be voting on. That is certainly what Labour will say.

The SNP has belatedly realised the danger here. Sturgeon has turned her guns on Keir Starmer, accusing him of “teaming up with the Tories” to perpetuate the “democratic deficit”: Scots getting governments in Westminster that they haven’t voted for. But next time time they might well have the chance to vote for a party – Labour – that could win.

If Sturgeon fails to win over 50% of the votes her de facto referendum will have failed and the Unionist parties will say that she has no need therefore to call for another one.

It might be very difficult to make the case for independence after two failed referendums. What a gamble!