Ian Swanson: Sturgeon may have to say no to Yes voters' demands for Indyref2

A LONG-AWAITED report to be published on Friday will set out a new prospectus for an independent Scotland.

Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 10:32 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 10:41 am

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the 400-page document from the Growth Commission – a 14-strong panel of business leaders, academics and politicians she appointed in September 2016 – will restart the debate on independence.

Leaks earlier this year ­suggested the commission wants to abandon oil-rich Norway as the model for the new Scotland and look instead to New Zealand and its encouraging growth rates.

Andrew Wilson, the former SNP MSP and professional economist who chaired the commission, has said a whole new approach is needed to North Sea oil revenues.

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Nicola Sturgeon needs to build a new case for independence

Reports at the weekend claimed the report will also advocate a gradual move to a Scottish currency and a ­central bank, abandoning the previous proposal to remain in sterling.

There is also talk of a simplified tax system and a “golden visa” scheme to attract wealthy investors by ­offering people the right to live here if they commit a certain amount to the ­country’s economy.

Whatever its conclusions, the ­commission’s report is an important landmark for the pro-independence movement, a serious rethink – four years after the referendum – of the arguments in favour of Scotland ploughing its own furrow.

It is widely accepted that a lack of convincing answers on the economy, currency and pensions were among the factors which contributed to the Yes campaign losing in 2014.

It could be argued the SNP has been rather slow in addressing these issues since then. So the analysis and recommendations from Mr Wilson and his colleagues will be significant.

Nicola Sturgeon is due to decide in the autumn whether or not to call another independence referendum and many Yes campaigners want one as soon as possible. The large pro-independence march through Glasgow a few weeks ago is cited as ­evidence of strong support – but that is not the same as widespread support.

A new poll found backing for the Union was weakest in Scotland – 52 per cent compared with 68 per cent in England, 66 per cent in Wales and 59 per cent in Northern Ireland.

But polls asking whether people would vote for an independent Scotland show opinion divided in roughly the same 55-45 proportion as in 2014.

On a rational calculation it seems Ms Sturgeon will have to disappoint the more fervent of the Yes campaigners and decide against an early return to the ballot box.

But that should not be taken as sign of weakness or backsliding by the First Minister. What would be the point of having a second referendum now simply to satisfy the longing of activists for the excitement of another campaign if all it would achieve is to lose again and postpone the prospect of independence for a generation?

If the SNP is serious about reaching its objective of an independent Scotland it has to assess the situation intelligently rather than rush headlong to the ballot box as if “one more heave” is going to deliver the desired victory.

But above all it must set out its case honestly and clearly. The world has changed a lot in the last four years, not least because of the Brexit result, and voters need to hear the arguments and have time to weigh up the options before they are asked to give their judgement again.