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Better Together Must Remobilise, But Who Will Lead Them This Time?

16/03/2017 15:27 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 15:27 GMT
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert via Getty Images

So she wasn't bluffing after all. Having warned for months another referendum was "highly likely", Nicola Sturgeon has stayed true to her word and confirmed her plan to stage a rerun of the 2014 campaign. With some polls indicating a 50/50 split in Scottish public opinion, there's every chance they could win it this time around.

It's a campaign that never really ended for the SNP of course. They've dreamed of the moment Scotland breaks away from the Union for over 80 years and if the campaign were to officially begin tomorrow, they'd have everything in place to put up a formidable fight, including a canny leader to front it. Because say what you want about Sturgeon, you can't argue she hasn't navigated the political landscape since becoming leader with some skill, taking every opportunity the government has thrown her way.

Whilst the SNP have all the main ingredients in place, what about the erstwhile Better Together campaign? The candidate who will lead it is still unclear and whilst polls show an edge for the 'Remainers' now, a united front from the separatists (and a fragmented one from the unionists) could change that very quickly.

Scan the political landscape for a champion of the unionist cause and pickings are slim. Alistair Darling, the leader of the first Better Together campaign, has now stepped down as an MP and, with his pro-EU stance, there's no guarantee he'd be willing to defend the union this time around anyway.

Gordon Brown is still respected in Scotland, but Labour's meltdown since the last Scottish election has left the party with little political mandate, something the SNP will exploit mercilessly.

The Conservatives, as the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament, would seem the obvious choice, particularly with the rising popularity of Ruth Davidson. Some see her as the only possible candidate who could offer an effective counterweight to Nicola Sturgeon. However, Davidson has a toxic flaw and it's the same one that rules Theresa May out - she's a Tory. Whether she supported leaving the EU or not, the SNP will use Davidson's association with the evil Brexiteers at every turn.

And whilst Labour and the Lib Dems were willing to unite with the Conservatives under the Better Together banner in 2014, there's no guarantee they'll do the same now. Getting into bed with the Tories had a disastrous effect on their popularity, so they will more than likely opt for their own pro-union campaigns. The Remainers in the EU referendum suffered from the same campaign fragmentation and we all know how that turned out for them.

Perhaps then the answer lies outside of politics. Could known pro-unionists, Rod Stewart or self-made lingerie millionaire, Michelle Mone step up to the mark? Or why not Britain's Got Talent's Susan Boyle? I'm joking of course, but it highlights the point. Try and imagine someone who can credibly lead the unionists and take the fight to the SNP, and it's hard to picture a candidate.

With a pro-independence campaign website already launched (and over £280,000 raised via the site in just days), the lack of someone to lead the cause could ultimately turn out to be fatal for the unionists. They need to get their act together and find a champion fast, or what was once just a pipedream for the SNP could soon become a political and economic nightmare for Scotland.