The importance of the United Kingdom dominated the Spring Conference Of the Conservatives with Prime Minister Terresa May leading the charge against the SNP.
“The SNP argue that we should break up the UK because we are leaving the EU” she said. She continued “…but three years ago they campaigned for a result that would have taken Scotland out of the EU altogether.
They are happy to see power rest in Brussels. But if those powers come back to London… they want them given to Edinburgh… so that they can try to give them back to Brussels.
And now they apparently say that an independent Scotland would no longer seek to become a member of the EU after a vote for separation.
It is muddle on muddle.”
Let battle commence
Despite May’s words to her members the battle between these islands two most powerful women will be intense.
Undoubtedly Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, wrong footing Terresa May by announcing the plans for second independence referendum on the morning of the day when the legigislation to trigger Article 50 was approved by Westminster.
Sturgeon dominated next day’s headlines. Giving the appearance that Theresa May’s announcement on triggering Brexit was delayed until the end of March.
May had to turn her attention to Scotland and by the end of the week her view that “now is not the time”, and wouldn’t discuss a potential referendum before the Brexit negotiations are complete.
Sturgeon’s response insisting that the vote would happen on her timetable, while the first minister hinted at “other options” if she is formally turned down by the UK government.
May appeals to Brexit supporters in Scotland
May looks to be in the stronger position as her government can prevent a referendum by withholding permission, whilst opinion polls do indicate that a majority of Scottish voters do not want a referendum without knowing the results of the Brexit negotiations first.
In appealing over the heads of the Scottish government, May’s position will play well both with voters most committed to Brexit and those fearful of greater uncertainty.
Two Parliaments at loggerheads
But the political wind will change when the Scottish parliament votes in favour of Sturgeon’s proposal on Wednesday. Sturgeon will claim to have a democratic mandate. This will rally supporters and create a Scotland versus Westminster fight. The debate will shift from the pros and cons of independence to who has the right to decide on the vote.
The question though is how long the UK government can delay even discussing a potential referendum. To do so for the two years of Brexit negotiations will be difficult. This will depend on avoiding a sustained Yes lead in opinion polls and is unlikely to succeed without a concerted and risky campaign warning about the dangers of independence to the Scottish economy, currency and borders.
So despite Prime Minister May trying to kick the ball to the long grass its unlikely to stay there for long.