Nicola Sturgeon's wildcat independence referendum plan shows how dangerous voting SNP really is – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

I’ve been thinking about that fable, the one with the scorpion who asks the frog for a ride across the river.

The frog says “ok, but if you sting me, we’ll both die”. The scorpion promises to keep its barb to itself and climbs on.

At the river’s deepest section, the frog feels the barb piercing its back and poison flushing through its veins. With its dying gasp, the frog asks, “Why did you do that, now we’ll both drown?” and the scorpion replies, “I’m sorry, it’s just in my nature”.

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This week, the SNP laid out their 11-point plan for delivery of an independence referendum and a weary nation sighed. It’s in the nature of the SNP to further the cause of independence in everything it does.

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So on Sunday the First Minister confirmed that if the nation confers a majority on them in the Scottish parliamentary elections, they will apply to Westminster to hold another referendum.

If that request is denied, then they will hold one anyway and let the courts decide. This is the Catalonian gambit of holding a so-called “wildcat referendum”, a plebiscite without legitimacy in an effort to demonstrate majority public support. It’s just what our exhausted country needs right now. Said nobody. Ever.

First and foremost, the cynic in me noted the timing of that announcement. Just as Alex Salmond parks his tanks on the lawns of Bute House, as part of the deepening civil war within the SNP, this announcement was both distraction and red meat to the nationalist base.

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Just enough to keep everyone marching. But for a party that has enjoyed the reins of power for 14 years by tapping into public sentiment, I think they’ve misjudged this spectacularly.

Yes, Nicola Sturgeon has enjoyed a bump in public confidence for the daily offerings from her lunchtime pulpit and that in turn has led to a small uplift in polls for independence.

But the SNP seem to translate these two things into what they describe as “the settled will of the Scottish people”. I’m sorry but with a pandemic raging around them, their movements restricted and their prosperity in doubt, the Scottish people are pretty far from being settled on anything right now.

When people go to the polls in May, they will want a government that will put the recovery first above everything else.

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They know that as Covid recedes, a huge mountain of problems will re-emerge; hospital waiting times, massive unemployment, mental ill health on an unprecedented scale.

Small wonder then that a recent poll found that independence ranked just 14th in the public’s list of priorities right now, with health and the economy ranked at numbers one and two respectively.

The SNP will soon realise that the public aren’t thinking about the break-up of the UK with every waking moment of the day, they’re just trying to stay alive. When that happens, you’ll see the nationalists dial the rhetoric around indyref2 right down and pivot to the First Minister’s supposed competence.

“Carry us to a fourth term in government,” the SNP will say, “we won’t sting you with independence if you’re not ready for it”, but it’s all they’ll be thinking about along the way, it’s in their nature.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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