Scotland’s First Minister unveiled what she called a “refreshed” case for independence this week. The SNP has outlined plans to hold a second referendum in October next year if her government secures the legal approval to go ahead.
Ms Sturgeon published the first in a series of policy papers setting out the case for independence on Tuesday.
The papers tackle some of the issues facing the independence campaign, such as currency options and Scotland’s deficit and debt.
The SNP leader also acknowledged that there would be potentially significant trade and business challenges if an independent Scotland rejoined the EU and had to introduce a hard customs border with the rest of the UK.
She said Scotland would join the common travel area, which still allows the free flow of people between the UK and Ireland, but there would undoubtedly be challenges for goods and services.
Telegraph columnist Fraser Nelson argues that Ms Sturgeon’s demands for a second referendum are a “bluff” in light of the major challenges the SNP leader appeared to avoid confronting in her latest speech.
In a piece entitled, “The case for Scottish independence is imploding – and Nicola Sturgeon knows it”, the former editor of The Scotsman writes: “Sturgeon leads a 120,000-strong brigade of party members (parts of my family included) anxious for another referendum. They need to believe that the great battle is just around the corner, that their date with destiny awaits.
“That’s why she has set aside £20million for a referendum next year. But under devolution rules, the UK Government needs to agree, and it won’t. So her main hope is to sue, persuading the Supreme Court to back a referendum billed as being ‘advisory’ – and, ergo, not a referendum. It’s a rather long shot.
“But let’s say she is granted her referendum: what then? She can talk (as she has done this week) about successful small countries. But none of them has Scotland’s economics.
“Sturgeon’s own officials calculate that state spending amounted to 61 per cent of GDP last year – making it one of the biggest governments, if not the biggest, in the world in relation to the size of the country.
“And, yes, the pandemic distorts things. But even beforehand, Scots were enjoying Swedish-style public spending while paying normal British levels of tax thanks to the regular Union dividend.”
Speaking in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland would learn lessons on how to build the most friction-free border with England and Northern Ireland post-independence by looking at the current crisis over the Northern Ireland protocol.
She said: “There will be customs and regulatory issues on trade if we are in the single market.
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“I think the benefits of being in the single market outweigh the challenges there. What I’m saying to you very frankly is we need to set out how those challenges will be met.”
In 2019, before the Covid pandemic and the completion of Brexit, trade with the rest of the UK accounted for 60 percent of Scotland’s total exports and was worth £52billion, while trade with the EU was made up just 19 percent worth £16.4billion.
Ms Sturgeon also acknowledged the challenges facing holding a second referendum.
The 2014 referendum was only allowed to go ahead because the then Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in Westminster gave it legislative consent.
Since 2014, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have repeatedly refused to hold a second vote.
Ms Sturgeon said on Tuesday that she would soon set out other ways to make a second referendum lawful, however she stopped short of giving any further details.
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The latest polling in June put support for independence at 50 percent, and only around one-third of Scottish voters support Sturgeon’s timetable for a second referendum.
The former Spectator editor argued that Sturgeon has allegedly told friends that holding a second referendum until independence is supported by 60 percent of voters is “political suicide”.
Mr Nelson said: “So the referendum demand is a bluff, an act of political theatre. Sturgeon had told friends after the last referendum that it would be political suicide to call another one until separation was backed by 60 per cent of voters. But that point never came.
“Even now, there’s a (slim) majority for the Union – and that’s after Brexit, an inflation crisis, a not-wildly-popular Etonian in No 10 and the partygate debacle. Polls show barely a third of Scots welcome her new timetable.
“So Sturgeon is threatening a vote that most Scots don’t want with a case she can’t win and questions she can’t answer.
“But her job, now, is to brazen it out, to suspend disbelief. To keep her troops hopeful by demanding a new referendum. And to hope, perhaps above all else, that the Tories don’t say ‘yes’.”