Ian Swanson: Sturgeon nails her colours to Remain camp mast

NICOLA Sturgeon has staked out some clear territory as the new year gets under way and promised the SNP will lead the fight against the 'horror show' of Tory plans for a hard Brexit.

Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 6:00 am
Nicola Sturgeon reasserted her opposition to Brexit in her survey of the year ahead

Attacking Labour as “ambivalent” and the Scottish Tories as “lobby fodder”, the First Minister warns the departure from the European Union threatens “deep and lasting damage to our economy and society”.

She says 2018 has the potential to be one of the most significant years in Scotland’s recent history and talks about “a new spirit of Scottish assertiveness” coming to the fore.

And she insists the Scottish Government and SNP MPs at Westminster will resist “as fiercely as possible” the Tories’ plans to take the UK out of the single market and customs union.

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Ms Sturgeon’s views on Brexit are well known, but it is significant she chooses to reassert them as strongly as she does in her survey of the year ahead.

Quite rightly she recognises Brexit as the issue which will dominate the political scene throughout 2018.

But it is not the most comfortable subject for the SNP. Despite the party’s clear line in favour of remaining inside the EU, around one-third of SNP supporters backed Brexit in the referendum and are quite happy at the idea of Scotland not being part of the European bloc.

Former cabinet minister Alex Neil has said: “A lot of them don’t understand why we don’t want to be run by London and would rather be run by Brussels.”

Although a clear majority of Scots voted Remain while England and the UK as a whole voted Leave, the clash in the results north and south of the Border failed to produce the surge of support the SNP had hoped for and expected.

So it is a bold stance for Ms Sturgeon to insist: “The Scottish Government will continue to oppose Brexit in principle.”

And she is promising to publish an updated paper on Scotland’s future place in Europe later this month, including the latest assessment of the likely economic impact of Brexit.

But she also takes an optimistic tone, claiming there is now a “more than evens” chance that a hard Brexit can be prevented.

She argues Theresa May’s concessions on the Irish border show the vision of hardline Brexiteers is starting to “drift from their grasp”.

And she highlights the “ever more vocal” opposition of the business community, warning of the economic harm that about to be done.

Naturally, Ms Sturgeon says independence must “remain an option”. She cites Ireland’s clout in the Brexit talks as proof of the value of being an independent country in Europe. But another referendum remains on the back burner for now.

The SNP has been clear and consistent in its opposition to Brexit and that stance proved to be in line with overall opinion in Scotland, even if it did not chime so well with all its own supporters.

Ms Sturgeon is making clear she does not intend to change tack now – and it could be that as the realities of Brexit become clearer and clearer there is an increase in support for the SNP’s long-held dream of an independent Scotland.

It was Alex Salmond who predicted in the summer that, in the long term, independence will succeed because Brexit will fail.