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Nicola’s song for Europe

Sturgeon spells out why Scotland’s path back to the EU would be hindered by an illegal referendum attempt

Artillery Row

Nicola Sturgeon’s Zoom call with the German media, Welt, and other European journalists, provided Scotland’s first minister with an opportunity to share more broadly the glad festive tidings that Scots are anxious to divorce the UK and remarry the EU.

How politicians rephrase their arguments for international audiences can be revealing. Sturgeon kept her substantive point until late in the interview, after first repeating a script she has rehearsed so many times that even she must be tiring of its principal features: Scotland wanted to stay in the EU but was forced out against its will; Brexiteers engage in “simplification” and in part, “open falsification”; yes, there are social problems in Scotland but that is “because London has the say over the social system” and: “my party is called the Scottish National Party. But the term nationalism has all sorts of connotations that have nothing to do with my party and our independence movement.”

Scotland is coming home. We can act as a bridge between the UK and the EU, bringing people together”

She did not miss the opportunity to love-bomb European readers with the assurance that on the morrow of its independence Scotland will seek a fast-track back to Europe: “Scotland is coming home, this is not a new beginning. We can act as a bridge between the UK and the EU, bringing people together.” Whether breaking-up a three-hundred-year-old union is indeed a bonding exercise went unchallenged, as did Sturgeon’s assurance that, “my party is called the Scottish National Party. But the term nationalism has all sorts of connotations that have nothing to do with my party and our independence movement.”

But on the subject of how a second independence referendum is called without Westminster’s assent, the first minister showed she was open-minded about taking the British government to court:

“If London refuses to approve, we have to see whether the Scottish Parliament can pass the necessary legislation. This question has not yet arisen in court, but I am not ruling it out. We cannot allow the British government to block democracy. Right now we’re seeing what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic. That politicians try their best to stand in the way of democracy. But I am a big believer in democracy, I believe in its power.”

The interesting point is not the tortured comparison with president Trump, but what else Sturgeon said on the calling of a second referendum: “It has to be a legally legitimised referendum for Europe and the world to recognise the outcome.”

Sturgeon is resisting calls for Holyrood to hold a second referendum without Westminster providing the necessary Section 30 order authorising it. Whilst some Scottish nationalists found the illegal poll organised by Catalan separatists inspiring, Sturgeon took greater note of its unhappy consequences than the wonderful purity of the gesture. Talking to Welt, she articulates a powerful rationale for caution – that the EU will not accept Scotland if there is any dubiety over the path it took to break-up the UK. Spain, in particular, would be even more reluctant to approve Scotland’s admission were the circumstances of the vote contested.

Scottish unionists fret about their lack of a plan to stop the SNP winning May’s Holyrood election by a landslide. Reversing the Nats’ commanding position in the polls before May is probably beyond them. But it is after that resounding victory that the real fight begins – the internecine battle within the SNP that pits its constitutionalist and “by any means necessary” wings against one another.

Splitting the SNP depends firstly on Boris Johnson proving immovable on his refusal to permit a second referendum no matter how big the party’s victory in May. In that eventuality, a decision by courts to overturn the intent of schedule 5 paragraph 1(b) of the 1998 Scotland Act that “the Union of the kingdoms of Scotland and England” is among the matters reserved to Westminster, creates a huge problem for Johnson. But if the judges interpret the law as its framers’ intended, then the problem is very much Sturgeon’s. “Europe is watching us” would be her most powerful defence for letting the moment slip.

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