Ramsay Jones: Could Sturgeon’s indyref2 demand come with a referendum add on?

I wrote last week about the gunfight at the UK Corral and whether the first minister and the prime minister would pull their respective triggers on Indyref2 and exiting the EU.

Last Monday, Nicola Sturgeon fired first.

On the pretext that Scotland was being forced out of the EU against its will, she insisted that Scotland must have a say on whether to stay in the UK. She wants Indyref2 next year, or within the next 24 months at the latest.

Her reasoning is that by then the shape of Brexit will be clearer, and there would still be time to decide our relationship with Europe.

In the aftermath, there was much debate about mandates. I won’t rehash all the arguments here – about material changes in circumstances versus popular support, or lack of it, and “once in a lifetime” or otherwise.

Instead, what intrigued me was the question of whether an independent Scotland should stay in the EU. Remember, the pretext for calling for Indyref2 was Brexit.

In 2014 there was no such debate. It was never a question of whether Scotland would be a member of the EU, only one of how.

Then, separation supporters argued that an Indy Scotland could continue to be members, or at the very least fast-tracked back in. A seamless withdrawal from Westminster and into the EU. As the late Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie coined it, a case of “Brits out, Brussels in”.

But something significant happened last week.

In interview after interview, in TV studio after TV studio, day after day, SNP politicians avoided the question. They chose instead to focus on talking about the single market or about our relationship with the EU. Assiduously avoiding confirming that membership was the destination, other than in the vaguest of terms.

Why?

I have written here before about the problem the Indy camp has in trying to keep in the fold former Yes voters who also backed Brexit. Some accounts put this number as high as 400,000 people.

For many of them, if faced with a choice of “Which Union?” many would now opt for the UK over the EU. In which case, Yes loses.

That reality would explain why the first minister and her team were keen to deny that any Indyref2 would be reduced to such a choice. It explains why they attempted to de-risk the EU question by talking about the single market rather than the EU itself. By talking about our relationship with Europe, not our membership of the EU.

But the black of clarity started to pose a problem. Having attacked the UK Government for a paucity of answers about Brexit, the refusal to come clean about what an Independent Scotland would look like, on questions of currency and the EU, began to hurt. If Brexit means Brexit, it seems that Indy means Indy.

But the questions wouldn’t go away.

So on Sunday the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon decided to answer the question.

“Would an Independent Scotland be looking for full membership of the EU?”

“Yes” she replied. Welcome clarity.

But. But. But…

It is telling that any talk of continued EU membership is all but gone. There is an acceptance that it would be a new application. That all takes time. It puts into the middle distance.

And I fancy there is a rabbit ready to be pulled from the SNP’s Indyref2 hat.

Remember, the SNP got to power and gained a majority at Holyrood in 2011 by promising an independence referendum.

Vote for us to run devolved Scotland, they said – but don’t worry if you don’t back independence because you will get a separate vote on that.

It is a tactic which worked. And one which, I now believe, they are preparing to use again.

Believe in an independent Scotland? But worried about the EU? Don’t worry. Vote yes.

And guess what? We will give you another vote. Another referendum. On an Indy Scotland re-joining the EU. That’s the fair way to proceed, the argument will go. Things have changed. We are democrats. The people should have their say. So don’t worry about the EU – let’s decide on Indy first. Scotland won’t be dragged back into the EU against its will.

The problem, of course, is that few people will think that Scotland will vote any other way than to join the EU. Offering a plebiscite would only be offering false hope to Yes/Brexiteers.

But it is a card the SNP might just have to play. If – and it is still a big if – they ever get to Indyref2 at all.

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One of the joys of my job is to work with the former Scottish Rugby and Strictly star, Kenny Logan. He and his colleagues run a programme of personalised physical literacy for primary school kids. It launched in Scotland four months ago.

It teaches some core physical skills such as coordination and balance and is personalised to each child. It has proved to be an impressive tool in boosting self esteem and raising academic results in literacy and numeracy.

So last week I went with Kenny to a great wee school in Midlothian. We were invited by Andrew Wilson, who is the council’s PE champion. He is a visionary who sees that the programme is just what his primary school children need and is setting the pace in its adoption in Scotland.

St Luke’s is run by a fantastic headteacher Lindsay Walker. We were there to see her, her teachers and classroom assistants, work with 10 of their children as they did their 10-minute morning programmes.

The staff were loving and caring. They had patience and professionalism.

All of this was a reason to be joyful. But best of all were the kids. They were obviously enjoying their twice daily chance to work with their teachers on a one to one basis.

The day proved to me that amongst all the angst and emotion of referendums and the constitution, there are people who’s eyes are firmly fixed on what really matters. Our children. Their wellbeing and their self esteem.

So three cheers for Midlothian Council, and those like them the length and breadth of the land. Please, please keep up the great work.

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