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Sturgeon Hopes To Gain Independence By Being The Only Adult In The Room

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At the SNP conference in Glasgow two weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the latest chapter in the never ending story that is her party's pursuit of independence. Unlike Alex Salmond's long war for the same cause, marked by bombast and the roars of the Scottish lion, Sturgeon's can best be described as the path of reasonableness.

It starts with the simple idea that there is such a thing as a Scottish mandate. That is, the Scots have a distinct democratic voice that ought to be respected. This is something that is now universally accepted north of the Border (Labour and the SNP have been touting it for years) and the concept is slowly dawning on our Southern brethren. In the case of Brexit then, the Scottish mandate is clear - we did not give our consent to Brexit.

It follows, therefore, that the mandate ought to be respected in some form. If Scotland can't stay in the European Union, it is perhaps fair the country retains some elements of membership. This special Scottish dimension of the Brexit negotiation is so fundamental to Scotland (back to respecting that mandate) that failure of the UK Government to secure it will be seen as jeopardising the Union.

Sturgeon has framed the logic of the IndyRef2 question in precisely this way. She argues that Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against its will. However, she is reasonable and will accept it if the Scottish mandate is respected. To do so, the UK Government will have to make sure Scotland retains single market access or has some other bespoke deal. So far, so reasonable.

Of course, as ever with the SNP, no concession is large enough to satisfy them. No matter what deal the UK Government secures, Sturgeon will argue it does not go far enough. Further, she will do this after displaying an abundance of reasonableness - she will say she gave the UK Government all the time, opportunity and potential solutions to overcome the challenge. Indeed, Sturgeon was no sooner out the door of her meeting with the Prime Minister than she was making this point.

Never mind that Scotland's largest market is the rest of the UK, a market more important in terms of value than the EU by a factor of four. Never mind the precipitous decline in North Sea oil revenues means an independent Scotland would face a potential ruinous fiscal deficit. Never mind, indeed, that most Scots say they do not want a second independence referendum.

Sturgeon's strategy is clear. She will mark the path to independence with an abundance of reasonableness. In so doing, she hopes to contrast her approach to the hard-line stance of the UK Government, thus making the prospect of an independent Scotland as part of the EU the less risky option.

Whether Sturgeon succeeds or not is a separate question but stylistically it seems more in keeping with the Scottish character than the Braveheart rhetoric of her predecessor. The challenge for Unionists is to devise their own coherent message, one based on more than an economic calculus. The biggest impediment is that those charged by Theresa May to negotiate Brexit do not seem the slightest bit interested in offering Scottish Unionists a chance to do this.

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