NICOLA Sturgeon is under pressure over a second independence referendum – and not just from inside the SNP, writes Ian Swanson.
Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie used his party conference in Edinburgh at the weekend to urge her to “seize the moment” and act soon on indyref2, lest the opportunity is lost.
The First Minister has promised several times that she will set out her plans once the situation with Brexit becomes a bit clearer – and understandably, through no fault of her own, that date keeps being put back because the UK’s exit from the European Union seems to get messier and messier as time passes.
Mr Harvie said he could understand Ms Sturgeon’s wish for more detail on Brexit before laying out her indyref2 proposals.
But he said: “I think there’s a real danger in waiting too long on the hope that clarity, which may never come, is just round the corner. To pass legislation for a referendum takes some time. If we wait too long, that won’t be doable in this current session of parliament.”
There is a fear among some that the current pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament through the combined SNP and Green forces will be lost at the next Holyrood elections and any prospect of being able to hold another referendum will disappear.
But others argue the best policy now is to use those 2021 elections to win a fresh mandate for a referendum and use that to demand the necessary powers from Westminster to hold such a vote.
But either way, there is a problem. Despite the Brexit shambles, opinion polls still do not show a decisive move in favour of independence. Support for a separate Scotland has not shifted much from the 45 per cent it received in the 2014 referendum.
If Ms Sturgeon were to call another independence vote and lose, it would probably not only mean the end of her political career but also take independence off the agenda for at least a generation.
Ms Sturgeon is by nature a cautious politician and once reportedly wanted polls to show 60 per cent support for independence for a sustained period before going for indyref2.
But could she be changing and becoming bolder and less risk averse? Long before his comments at the weekend, Mr Harvie was prodding Ms Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions, asking when she was going to make her plans clear.
When he put the question last month, she told him: “The past three years have shown that the status quo is broken. It cannot protect Scotland from the folly of Brexit and all that flows from that. Even the most ardent unionist must see that the way we are now governed by Westminster is broken.
“The question is how we fix that for the future, and there is no doubt in my mind that letting people in Scotland choose an independent future is the best way to do that.”
Around the same time, she told an overseas journalist she was “as convinced as it is possible to be that, if Scotland is given the opportunity to choose again, it will choose independence”.
The Brexit debacle probably has a few more twists and turns to play out yet. So Ms Sturgeon’s long-awaited declaration of intent may not be for a little while. But could it be that, when it comes, she will have a surprise for us all?