There is a story told about Robert the Bruce, possibly apocryphal, that while on the run from the English in 1307 and hiding in a cave he saw, on a small flat screen TV on the far wall, a woman in a cerise two piece, who had called a press conference to announce a referendum on Scottish independence.
She would not give up, this woman. Even though the people of Scotland had already had a referendum on the matter, not two years before, they would now have another one. Even if they didn’t want one, they would have one. And if the people of Scotland got it wrong for a second time, well there would be another cerise two piece, another press conference, another referendum. “If at first, you don’t succeed,” he muttered to himself, “vote, vote and vote again,” before riding off to Bannockburn to bludgeon some English poshoes with an axe.
Yes, a mere two and a bit years after the question of Scottish Independence was ‘settled for a generation’ Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the matter was now officially unsettled. The second independence referendum, the likelihood of which has gradually inched its way beyond Ms Sturgeon’s various milestones of ‘probable’, ‘likely,’ ‘highly probable’ has now lolloped over the line into what she hopes is ‘all but certain.’
“The future of the UK looks very different than it did two years ago,”’ she said, and she is right. “The collapse of the Labour Party means we face a long period of uninterrupted and unchecked Conservative government,” she said, as if the forty seats Labour lost to the SNP in Scotland in 2015 were some sort of accident of which the SNP were the victim.
“What is at stake is the kind of country we become,” she said. “Scotland stands at a crossroads. To follow the UK to a hard Brexit or to become an independent country.”
“Scotland stands at a crossroads.” That’s a nice slogan. It’d look nice down the side of a bus. It’s tactics, after all. Nothing more. Nicola Sturgeon is no more or no less committed to Scottish independence now than she has been at any point in the 31 years since she has been fighting for independence. For the independence cause, Brexit is their £350m for the NHS.
With the House of Commons about to push through the Article 50 Bill, there has been much debate over Ms Sturgeon’s timing, even if an independence referendum before the end of the Brexit negotiations would leave Scottish voters utterly clueless about what independence would mean, but clearly that’s how we like our referenda these days.
Probably, it’s merely a coincidence that it was Commonwealth Day. But if Scotland and Nicola Sturgeon are ready to join the long line of people’s movements, popular plebiscites and charismatic dictators boldly to throw off the yolk of empire, there is no shortage of twentieth century evidence for what happens next in countries in which independence campaigners are suddenly charged with the job of actual governance. It doesn’t always go well.
Nevertheless, if Theresa May was watching, we can but hope she paid particular attention to the First Minister’s easy manner as she took a full twenty minutes of questions at the end, around nineteen and half minutes more than the Prime Minister has ever managed.
Still, the First Minister has one advantage. Both leaders are chucking their people on a bonfire of tin-brained nationalism, but at least Nicola Sturgeon has never actively campaigned for the opposite side. Equally dreadful, but a little less awkward.