It did not take long into the New Year for British politics to get down and get dirty. While Westminster’s drum roll for the guillotine that should fall on Brexit this March began its incessant clatter, so Holyrood has not disappointed by demonstrating anything Whitehall can screw up the Scottish Government can go one better.
It is only the second week of January and already a civil war has broken out in the SNP ranks following Alex Salmond’s victory in court against the Scottish Government.
Of course there are many rushing to deny it is that serious, but the presence in court of former Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick and ex-Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to offer moral support to Salmond shows how senior figures are already taking sides.
In more ordinary times, with more ordinary players and in a more ordinary political party the merit of Salmond’s victory might not gain a great deal of media coverage. This, however, is the age of #MeToo when claims of sexual harassment against the powerful have become a cause celebre.
Moreover, once the shape of Brexit is determined, Nicola Sturgeon will be under pressure to decide if she can push for a second independence referendum.
However, any second campaign will not be run in anything like the climate of the first. Thanks to the allegations against Salmond and his decision to take the party to court we now have members taking sides rather than rallying behind the cause that is supposed to unite them.
All manner of conspiracy theories are now being aired about Salmond being restored to the leadership (there’s no vacancy – yet) while his protégé works behind the scenes to cut him out (he’s already resigned from the party, but intends to rejoin). It will be difficult for party members to keep their mouths shut and fingers off their keyboards and the cybernat Twittersphere is already illuminated with partisan claims on behalf of each combatant.
The New Year was heralded by many of my Yes supporter friends telling the world “this is the year” and “this is the time we strike”. The pressure on Sturgeon from the grassroots is real, and there will be great disappointment if she worms her way out of calling for a revisit of the 2014 vote. Supporters of a referendum are not worried about having Westminster approval, favouring instead the running of a potentially illegal referendum on the Catalonian model.
However, the party cannot enter into the most important campaign of its history (the SNP cannot afford to lose a second time) with the two biggest figures in open dispute, their followers divided and distrustful of each other.
Even worse, it would be sheer madness to launch a campaign when bang in the middle of it a criminal case might take place, hearing possibly salacious testimonies and counter accusations, with a verdict that must cause public humiliation for one or both of the contestants. If it goes that far then either Salmond or the Crown – in this case the Scottish Government led by Sturgeon – loses.
That surely is too big a variable to comprehend and must surely rule out a second independence referendum any time soon.