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Not going as planned

28th March 2017

Two weeks on from Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she is seeking to hold a second independence referendum, it’s now clear that this campaign will be different from its 2014 predecessor.

Much has changed – and not just Brexit.

Last time around the SNP and the Yes coalition of parties and pressure groups were united.

However, this time, things are different. In the intervening 30 months, former cabinet secretaries have left office or left Parliament. One of these,  Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Secretary and now Scotsman columnist, takes the view that Nicola Sturgeon’s lack of clarity around an independent Scotland’s currency was becoming “not just lamentable but laughable”.

And former Health Secretary, Alex Neil MSP, has called for the independence vote to be delayed till at least spring 2019 as Scotland could not be “absolutely sure” of the final Brexit deal before it is ratified by all 27 EU member states, the European Parliament and Westminster.

Meanwhile Jim Sillars, former SNP Deputy Leader, has become the focal point for those 400,000 SNP supporters who voted for Brexit. He maintains that he would abstain if Scottish independence resulted in Scotland joining the EU. His intervention helps explain the move in the SNP to examine the possibility of joining EFTA rather than simply re-joining the EU.

Tellingly, George Mathewson, former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, also backed Jim Sillars and reflected Alex Neil’s view by arguing that independence “is best decided over a long timescale”.  He drew attention to the EU imposing austerity measures on Greece and Portugal and, as Scotland’s deficit is higher than either, said that it could face similar measures.  His point is that by delaying the referendum, the First Minister’s case for running Scotland’s economy will be stronger, though he also makes it clear that for many Yes voters, economics are not the central issue.

Astonishingly, senior SNP figures have also taken to arguing against their own government’s economic statistics. Joan McAlpine MSP used her Daily Record column to claim that Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures were compiled by Westminster and reflect what London wants them to. However, the GERS figures are actually compiled by the Scottish Government.

A recent YouGov poll shows that the SNP’s hope for renewed momentum for independence may not have been the best timed. The most recent YouGov poll found a fall in support for separation, with No in the lead by 57-43 (previously 56-44).

Perhaps in this context the First Minister would privately be happy if Theresa May kicked the issue into the long grass – at least for a while.