The old adage about events being the undoing of political plans has perhaps been uncomfortably appropriate for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over the past week.
Ms Sturgeon had been taking advantage of the seismic upheavals caused by the Brexit referendum vote and wasted no time in capitalising on the lack of leadership shown by David Cameron and the pathetically adrift Jeremy Corbyn. She and her colleagues have been beating the drums for Scotland to stay in the EU and brandishing what they perceive to be their trump card – the threat of another Indy Ref. It seemed to be golden days for the Nats.
However, in politics the alchemy of events can quickly turn gold to dust or, to use the Scottish vernacular, stoor.
The Premiership transition from Cameron to May and the bold new broom the incoming PM has applied to the Cabinet has helped to sweep away post-Brexit uncertainties and fill what many considered to be a leadership vacuum. Moreover, big beast Brexiteers have been put in key positions in the Cabinet, with a clear message being sent that Britain means business on delivering the referendum mandate of LEAVE. May also astutely binned the toxic Michael Gove, whose perceived treachery would have undermined any benefit he brought to the table.
Theresa May also grasped the thistle by coming north to meet Sturgeon as a priority. Mere rhetoric or not, her speech on entering Number Ten may have been the first salvo in a campaign to outdo Sturgeon and others on their home ground of social justice. In short, Sturgeon may be about to be matched up by perhaps the one person who can – another strong-willed woman. Few would doubt Theresa May’s credentials on that score but dealing with Nicola Sturgeon is not her only priority. May herself could be undone by events, particularly given her wider range of pressing issues, Brexit being a very big example.
The Nats’ bargaining power is based on their ability to bluster and harass, more than any real threat. The fact is, that once Brexit becomes an ongoing process, EU leaders will abandon their anti-British narrative and adopt a pragmatic approach to matters of trade. The UK government will do what it always does and tie up loose ends in the ensuing trade deals. One of those loose ends will be an agreement that precludes an independent Scotland from being allowed to enter the EU. When faced with a stark choice between British billions in trade and taking on the hapless deficit of Sturgeon and Salmond’s Caledonia, EU chiefs will vote with their best interests at heart. The reality is that Sturgeon has nothing to offer the EU other than a chance to annoy UK governments.
Theresa May knows this and certainly Alex Salmond knows this. What the Nats don’t want is their core fanatics knowing this but given that up to a third of SNP supporters are Euro-sceptic, selling Indy to get the EU is a hard row to hoe for Salmond and the First Minister. The SNP problem is a perpetual one – they are a jukebox with one song and that song is independence. IndyRef 2 itself could be a hard sell, although the ironclad resistance by the greatly-strengthened Ruth Davidson has seemingly evaporated. Odd that in a time of growing power and influence, she should allow her pouting over the LEAVE vote to give her apparent wobblies on independence.
A strong woman in Number Ten is arguably the one event our First Minister did not want to encounter. Wiping the floor with the posh boys is one thing. Dealing with the ice and steel of May and her tough-nosed new Cabinet is a whole new ballgame.
Another event that does not do much to help Sturgeon’s lovefest with the EU is the terrible atrocity in Nice. Mainland Europe is now very much a primary target for terrorists and only bolsters the case for Briexit. A Britain with tough border controls and a zealous counter-terrorism culture is the safe option for anyone concerned with terror attacks. Continued association with the EU and its attendant border/migrant problems is a recipe for disaster, particularly as it would necessitate border controls between England and Scotland, should Scotland go independent within the EU.
And then there is Turkey. It is no secret that Turkey was/is being primed for EU membership. Looking at what is going on there, how can any responsible political leader make the case for being part of the EU if that membership is still a viable possibility? Economic uncertainties, the migrant issue, growing Euroscepticism, Britain leaving, rampant terrorism.unstable states being mooted for membership – what’s not to love about the EU? The fact is that the EU is falling apart and any attempt to be part of it based on racial hatred of the English is not only preposterous, it is monstrously immoral. And it is sad that this hatred is more important to hardcore Nats than any other motivating force.
What’s more is that EU leaders are not conned. They are aware that this hatred is the driving force of Scottish nationalism. And many of them have rabid separatist movements to contend with in their own back yards. Any pretence of internationalist ideals and EU lovin’ by the SNP government in Holyrood is easily seen through by these leaders.
We live in times of golden opportunity. And this is very applicable to the SNP. The problem is that, in its misplaced zeal for an unworkable independence, the SNP is missing the chance to do truly great things for Scotland. Why leave a Britain that can be influenced and led by Scots at this most opportune time? Why choose the politics of grievance – much of it imagined – over the chance to create a forward-looking society where all who live in these islands can live? Why choose hatred, isolation and self-absorption over peaceful co-operation, mutual interest and conjoined destiny?
With the astonishing self-destruction of Labour – and the apparent redundancy of UKIP – the SNP could arguably be the credible opposition in Westminster for years to come. Does Nicola Sturgeon really intend to be “wee Nippy” in perpetuity, biting away at Tory governments in escalating spite? Or can she rise above her own prejudices and take a statesmanlike role in a new chapter for the British Isles, one where the influence and voice of the peripheries is heard and valued as it should be?
No doubt some are reading who would say I was better asking can a midgie become a butterfly.
Ms Sturgeon would be best-advised that she is First Minister of all the people in Scotland. That includes the majority who voted against the independence pipedream only two years ago, as well as the substantial amount of people – including SNP voters – who voted to leave the EU.
Nicola Sturgeon is no Moses. She has no Canaan land to offer, only the wilderness. Should she win a referendum to take us out of the UK, that is the stark reality. And should she lose, the verdict of her predecessor should give her much to chew on.
According to Mr Salmond, if you lose a referendum, you have to go.