‘Now is not the time’

Weber Shandwick Scotland analyses the debate around Indy Ref 2

PM refuses to have a second independence referendum

Yesterday, in a co-ordinated announcement the Prime Minister said in an interview that ‘now is not the time’ for a second independence referendum. She said it would “not be fair” to expect the Scottish people to decide when they did not know what the future partnership with the UK would be or “what an independent Scotland would look like”. This means in practice her government will refuse to negotiate a Section 30 order which would allow for a legal Scottish referendum.

Immediately after that the Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell MP and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson MSP held a press conference in Edinburgh. At that press conference Ruth was pressed as to why she has switched her position (she said it shouldn’t be ruled out previously). She also said if it were to be held today No would win with a bigger margin.

Nicola Sturgeon responded immediately saying she is not demanding a referendum ‘now’ but instead in 2018 early 2019 when the terms of Brexit are known. She also pointed out that by May’s logic she will not know the terms of Brexit before the end of the article 50 deadline. She also said “I suspect history will look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the Union was sealed.”

What does this mean?

The ground is shifting quickly in the debate over a second independence referendum. Now the arguments are totally on process – which suits the nationalists as they need time to rebuild their case for independence in the new post-Brexit world. This move by May brings considerable risk for her party –  although ‘sources’ say that no 10 and Ruth Davidson were on the same page regarding this decision and that is was backed by focus groups and polling, it is still genuinely unknown whether this refusal will boost the support for ‘Yes’.

Some have also pointed out that ‘now is not the time’ is not a firm holding position. When is the exact time that is acceptable? Without detail the questions will continue. It also splits Labour – who internally hold different opinions from: it should go ahead (Deputy leader Alex Rowley); it should go ahead after Brexit (Scottish Leader Kezia Dugdale); and from yes it should/”I didn’t say that” from Corbyn. In short a mess.

The timing is significant as it is on the eve of the SNP conference this weekend in Aberdeen. Undoubtedly the response will be robust from the FM. It couldn’t come at a better time for the party financially as they’ve already raised £250k in small donations this week and will use the PM’s announcement to raise even more. The FM will point out that next week the Scottish Parliament will vote on whether they should begin negotiation on a  Section 30. This will be a very symbolic moment as the will of the Scottish Parliament will by definition be ignored by the UK Government. Of course the triggering of article 50 may come in the midst of all this too – adding another layer of complexity.

Then we will have the local elections. Some Tories will privately concede that they have little more to eek out of the Labour unionist vote, but a bold move like this may crystallise the last they can get out of it, which could see their support of 25% maybe go up a little in the local elections. As for the SNP they will be feeling quite confident as this will rally their large party base to hit the streets. There may be a small LidDem bounce as those who can’t bear to vote Tory move from Labour to them.