New campaign to break up Britain is a waste of political oxygen - Alex Cole-Hamilton

“Now, you want a referendum next year, what will we get first, a ferry or a referendum?” asked STV’s Colin Mackay in a Monday night interview with Nicola Sturgeon on the eve of her launch of a renewed campaign to break up the UK.

The First Minister visibly recoiled at this, but it’s a question asked in different ways the country over. Is this really the best use of government time when they can’t even seem to get the basics right?

This week we were given the first part of a new blueprint for an independent Scotland. I say new, because this is just the latest in a long line of campaign launches, resets and refreshes that have punctuated the period between now and the 2014 referendum.

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In reality, the public didn’t learn anything new. Those spinning for the SNP/Green government suggest this is a prospectus that will paint a picture of the supposed ‘sunlit uplands’ that separation from our neighbours to the south might bring.

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But on the key unanswered questions - on currency, on who will pay our pensions, on a border at Gretna and on EU re-entry - it was utterly silent. Nor was there any indication of when the legislation required to trigger a border poll will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament. As campaign launches go, this was decidedly insubstantial.

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In truth this offering is designed to fill an awkward silence created by the fact that Nicola Sturgeon has run out of road and her base is getting restless.

There isn’t going to be a referendum next year and the nationalist leadership realise that. Why do I say that with such confidence? Well, let’s game this out.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a press conference in Bute House in Edinburgh at the launch of new paper on Scottish independence. PIC: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire

The only way that Nicola Sturgeon can achieve a legally binding poll that would break up the UK in the event of a Yes vote, is if a Section 30 order is granted by the UK parliament to do so. The UK Government have already said that they would not grant such an order at this time, given the huge array of pressing social issues we currently face and the public broadly agree.

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In this reality, there is a section of the nationalist movement which would wish to follow Catalonia and hold an illegitimate, ‘wildcat’ referendum, but Nicola Sturgeon has said repeatedly that this needs to be legal. So, we’re very probably in for years of argument that will tie up our parliament and very likely the Supreme Court.

This is a criminal waste of political oxygen. Scottish patients are joining the longest queues in the history of our NHS, household budgets are suffering the biggest cost of living crisis since the end of rationing and the lasting impact of the pandemic will still be felt for years to come.

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This government can’t build a brace of ferries on time or on budget, it can’t even deliver a valid census. When we vote in a government we expect them to spend their time and our money, on the things that really matter to our day-to-day lives, and on the life chances of our children. This SNP/Green Government needs to remember that it is elected to represent all of the Scottish people and not just Nationalist acolytes desperate to break up our country.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for Edinburgh Western