Theresa May showed true leadership when she rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s timetable for a second Scottish referendum. Hardly anybody wants one. Not the Government, obviously, which needs to focus on the Brexit negotiations; not business, which needs stability rather than more uncertainty; and not the Scots, who tell pollsters that they would prefer to get on with their lives. Perhaps even Ms Sturgeon entertains doubts. After all, she would find it harder to win a referendum than her incessant calls for one suggest.
Preserving Scotland’s relationship with Europe is Ms Sturgeon’s justification for a second referendum, and yet the best alternative she can offer is a form of Scottish Brexit.
Her latest demand has a fraudulent premise. Brexit, she says, has changed everything and the Scots – who allegedly adore the EU, even though 400,000 SNP supporters actually voted to leave it – deserve a say on the final terms. But the window proposed by Ms Sturgeon for a vote, between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, would likely close before ratification of whatever the EU agrees to, and before its consequences become clear. How could the Scots possibly pass judgment at that time?
Even if Britain walked away from the table with no deal, there is no logical reason why the Scots should then vote to quit the Union in disgust. Doing so would leave them not only outside the UK but also outside the EU – and the EU would almost certainly not take them back. Nationalist sources have told TheDaily Telegraph that Ms Sturgeon favours entering the European Free Trade Association instead. This is farcical. Preserving Scotland’s relationship with Europe is Ms Sturgeon’s justification for a second referendum, and yet the best alternative she can offer is a form of Scottish Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon persists in calling for a referendum because the SNP exists to campaign, not to govern. It has been a disaster in Holyrood. Education has suffered; services have been centralised; the finances are a mess. The economic case for independence relied upon a strong oil price and that pricel has crashed. Rather than addressing these problems, the SNP stokes divisions and moans about the Tories in Westminster.
Mrs May has shown clear resolve, and now the Government must proceed with negotiating Brexit without distraction. Anyone who truly cares about the national interest, including Scotland’s, would allow the prime minister to get on with the most important task this country has undertaken for a generation.