As I See It: Terry Murden
Nicola Sturgeon won’t be surprised by the contents of Boris Johnson’s letter. She may even be privately relieved. After all, his formal rejection of her request for a second independence referendum means she won’t face the prospect of an embarrassing defeat.
More immediately, she can now relax, having delivered on her party’s policy commitment and doing so by her preferred choice of following proper statutory procedure.
Ms Sturgeon knows the numbers are stacked against her. Yet the SNP leader continues with the fantasy that the people would vote in favour of independence and accuses the Tories of pursuing a strategy that is “doomed to failure”. How? With the polls consistently showing a majority in favour of the status quo the strategy looks anything but doomed to failure.
The SNP claims a mandate for a referendum based on the General Election result, even though more votes were cast for unionist parties. Due to the vagaries of the first past the post voting system, the SNP won a landslide. In a referendum, each vote would count and the verdict would be based on a simple majority. On that basis – on current forecasts – the SNP would lose.
In her response to the Prime Minister, Ms Sturgeon insists that Scotland “will get the right to decide” but offers nothing more than another vote in the Holyrood parliament in pursuit of that objective.
The Conservative government at Westminster is not wholly off the hook. As argued in this column recently. Mr Johnson has to do more than offer authoritarian diktats that only add to the frustration and anger north of the border. That’s not to say he should offer a referendum, but he does need a significant shift in the Tories’ agenda.
Ms Sturgeon says resistance to a referendum demonstrates the union is not a partnership of equals. It goes deeper than that. The partnership has been strained by decades of London-knows-best policies that frustrate other parts of the UK. Mr Johnson himself knows that, which is why he talks about ‘building a better Britain”. He has made a start. There is a focus on the northern powerhouse and the Flybe bail-out is another acknowledgement that we all need to feel connected.
The Prime Minister need to go further. A political strategy aimed at benefiting every citizen of the UK would build a badly-needed consensus after three years of division over Brexit. It would also dampen enthusiasm for another independence referendum.