Sunday, 10 January 2021

Told you so.

Last January, I wrote a blog pointing out that for the foreseeable future there is not going to be an independence referendum or indeed independence by any other means. Despite its logic being patent, everybody just ignored what was staring them in the face, not least the entirety (then) of the SNP. I sat down tonight to outline why again but experienced a sense of deja vu. So, in the interest of brevity, here is my January blog;https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/01/new-year-new-world.html, my July blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/07/much-ado-about-nothing.html, my September blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/09/shortest-blog-ever.html and finally my November bloghttps://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/11/the-walking-dead.html . Glad to see those who make their living from writing about Scottish politics are finally catching up. 

I'm enjoying as much as anybody the Salmond/Sturgeon fall out. But it is a diversion. The idea that Sturgeon, the best known and popular Scottish politician by a country mile, might fall over whether she told the truth to the Scottish Parliament that first knew of the allegations against Alex Salmond on 29th March as opposed to 2nd April 2018 (remember that pre pandemic decade?) is the most wishful of wishful thinking. Even if a (very) few understand why that lie might be significant. 

But the exact terms of the SNP Manifesto for an election to Holyrood this year, whether in May or October? That is very interesting. 

The current Scottish Parliament was elected in May 2016. Only just over 18 months after the Independence Referendum. But there was already a significant part of the SNP membership demanding another referendum. Indeed the "All Under One Banner" marching organisation was set upon 12th October 2014! That is, if they weren't still insisting, apropos Trump, that the First Referendum had been stolen. Although even they couldn't entirely work out who by.

But, nonetheless, zoomer conspiracy theorists make up a significant section of the SNP rank and file. So they had to be thrown a bone. And that bone was that a vote to leave the EU would be a material change of circumstance justifying the demand for a second vote. This was an easy bone to throw. In May 2016 nobody thought the UK would actually vote to leave the EU. After all, every major Party in the UK was opposed to that. 

But jings, despite Nicola Sturgeon's own enthusiastic campaigning (illogically) for the very Brexit referendum result that would not  justify a second independence referendum, that is what happened, Supported by two in five Scottish voters and, more awkwardly still, by a majority of voters in Wales, also otherwise supposed to be being "dictated to by England". Nonetheless, in March 2017, Nicola did ask for her second referendum and Mrs May told her to go and raffle herself. And what then happened? Nothing happened. 

Fortunately the dilemma this might have presented to the SNP leadership was avoided for the moment by the 2017 election. Not only did the reverse the SNP suffer then cause even the bravest of bravehearts to ponder whether an immediate second referendum was actually a good idea, the UK wide election result cast doubt on whether we would actually leave the EU. That, and the usual boilerplate rhetoric, at periodic conferences, managed to disguise the continued dichotomy that the SNP, in attempting to block Brexit, were attempting to block their own rationale for having a fresh Independence vote.

However, the December 2019 election has changed everything. Not only has it restored momentum to the SNP it has also installed a UK Government with a solid majority on a manifesto expressly saying they will not consent to a second referendum. Oh, and in case you missed it, we then did leave the EU. 

Which would have placed the SNP leadership back in a hole were they not saved in a way they would never have wished by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

For while polling on the question has undoubtedly (in the abstract) moved in their direction, the population is not nearly as animated about imminently asking it again as are the Nationalist Rank and File.

Which brings me back to my question. What will the SNP manifesto say? You see, one suspects the leadership would like to stick with Plan A. "Give us a "mandate" and somehow the Tory Government will change their mind about agreeing to a referendum." And that would be it. But they won't get away with that because their own troops won't let them. They will insist on a plan B.

However there is no viable plan B. I outlined that in my blog last January. So the zoomers will have to be confronted with that before the election. That will be a bloodbath and one from which the SNP leadership might not emerge victorious. For there is a fair part of the SNP who would never be willing to accept that, having had and lost a referendum, the only way forward now is with the consent of the UK to another referendum. Which they are not going to get. But that is the truth of their situation, If the leadership win the internal battle, their manifesto will say they propose to have a referendum which they know they are not going to have. But the only true difference if they lose will be the three words "which they know". The public however would know that this second route presents a period of continuing constitutional (at least) chaos just as we struggle to  recover from Brexit and the pandemic. Is there a majority for this in Scotland despite momentary polling? Let's see. But there are good and rational electoral reasons the SNP leadership are reluctant even to contemplate a plan B.





Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Why May?

There is a vaccine. Thank God there is a vaccine. By the Summer we should all have had it and things be back to (the new) normal.

And that new normal would include elections and all that goes with them. Door to door canvassing: street stalls; hustings; TV debates with a live audience; Party rallies. Above all, scrutinised counting of the votes. Unless the vaccine is rolled out much more quickly than currently envisaged however that will not be the position in April or early May. Yet it remains the position of the Scottish Government that we should still have a vote on the first Thursday in May. A Scottish Government, you might note, who have already decided that the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath means that we can't have secondary school exams in June or, indeed, conduct a Census at any time during the calendar year 2021.

On its last sitting day of 2020, Holyrood did pass legislation to allow for the possibility of the 2021 elections being postponed. So far was it recognised that we are far from out of the woods that it even provides that the election can be postponed by the presiding officer alone if (and the Bill, soon to be Act, says this expressly)  the Parliament can't meet because of continued Coronavirus restrictions.

So, in April/May it is acknowledged that the crisis might be far from over but the plan is still to have an election.

Indeed, on looking at its actual terms of the Bill, it is clear that the SNP Government wants an election in May. They give themselves powers to conduct an entirely postal ballot and reserve powers to conduct in person voting over several days. How logistically possible the first would be at this short notice is altogether another matter, while pulling essential local government workers away for days to act as polling clerks, Police officers being diverted from their duties to guard polling stations overnight and many schools being closed for days during a year of already widely disturbed educational is, how would you put it, an odd sense of priorities. 

And this is all wholly unnecessary. Almost as soon as the pandemic broke out, English local government elections were cancelled for a year by cross Party consensus. I understand there are quiet conversations going on about them being further postponed. The Electoral Commission have already recommended that.  But this time we wouldn't be talking about a year, for, if all goes to plan, there should be no reason that we couldn't have a normal election, as described above, on the first Thursday in October. Given they would remain in power in the interim in Scotland, why would the SNP object to that?

Here's why. They know they need to cut and run. The polling might look good at the moment but who says that will last. Particularly if, as I suspect, the failure to apply the cash they were given for business support, choosing instead to spend it on pre election freebies, sees the economy bounce back here much more slowly than in the south. Particularly further if, on more considered reflection, given our inherent advantages (in pandemic terms): far lower population density; far fewer multi generational households; far fewer particularly vulnerable ethnic minorities, people begin to question whether we really did much better than "them". Or even better at all. Except, even I would concede, in the field of public presentation.

Public presentation I suspect the Nats hope that, if they can hold on to May, they'll can continue with until a few weeks before the polls open? And also, in the process, avoid a Party Conference that might finally have to be confronted with there being no plan B. 

In summary therefor, there should be no election in May and if that is not a decision willingly taken at Holyrood, it should be taken at Westminster. Power devolved is, after all, power retained. 


Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Walking Dead

Party Conferences have two purposes. Firstly they allow the Party's activists, among their own herd, to  feel important, although in any well run Party they will not actually be. Secondly they require the media to pay your Party some attention and provide some favourable coverage. In both respects the SNP Conference has been, for them, a disaster. It is no wonder their leadership postponed it repeatedly.

Sturgeon's interview on the Marr show today was a meltdown moment. She was caught out lying on not one but two occasions. About two unrelated matters, the first of which, about how many people in Scotland were dying of Coronavirus, was a performance which, in its indifference to the population she governs and  regard instead for protecting her own image, would have put Donald Trump to shame. 

Whether this will be a breakthrough moment only time will tell, but I suspect wiser heads in the SNP have appreciated for some time that Nicola is only the air in an increasingly over inflated bubble and that someone might come along with a pin at any moment. If she has just evaded this pin today, there will be others to come. In my lifetime first Ally McLeod and then Fred Goodwin went from being the most admired person in Scotland to the most despised person in Scotland within the space of a month. If it became common currency that Sturgeon had used an hour of live telly every day not to inform the people of Scotland but to lie to the people of Scotland, you could see a similar moment coming. 

But the second way in which the conference has failed is in making the Party's own activists, herding among their own, to feel important. Don't take my word for this, look no further than The Reverend Stuart Campbell, proprietor of the Nationalist's favourite website, Wings Over Scotland. He suggests the SNP leadership are treating their ground troops like (his simile) mushrooms. To be kept in the dark and fed shit. Now, to describe many SNP activists as as insentient as mushrooms is probably an insult to funghi worldwide but, if those continuing to support the leadership's strategy of waiting for the UK Government to grant them as.30 are stupid, how much more are those wanting a "Plan B"?

There is literally no Plan B. Insofar as I can even comprehend it, it consists either of passing a referendum bill at Holyrood and waiting for the Supreme Court to vote it down. And then to be..... aggrieved. Or instead have a referendum about something else such as "Should Holyrood have the right to have.....a referendum?".

What all this ignores is that their has been a referendum in 2014 where, on a record turnout, 55% voted to remain in the UK. All the attention has been on the relative recentness of that event. Not enough of the decisiveness of it. Not just regarding the result but regarding the turnout. Now, were the SNP to have some sort of other referendum and get 2.1 million votes, or even something remotely approaching that, then I kind of agree that might make a difference. But there is literally no prospect of that! And if the Plan B team think otherwise they are not just stupider than a mushroom, they are stupider than a grain of salt. The only kind of goal they are pursuing is an own goal. 

The SNP is now existing in a strange zombie like incarnation, They can move about. They can, to be fair, still bite people. They certainly continue to take chunks out of the Scottish Labour Party. But they are in truth the walking dead. They should stop herding about  to draw attention to that.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Numbers

Yesterday, Douglas Ross talked about what everybody interested in Scottish politics should have been talking about for months. What happens if the SNP and their gardening wing don't have an overall majority at Holyrood in May next year?

That is much more of a possibility than conventional opinion allows. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere, conventional opinion has a vested interest in a narrative that an SNP majority is inevitable and so all attention should focus on there being to come, somehow, a second independence referendum. 

But, as you will surely know, I am on twitter a lot. And for a long time I had as my  pinned tweet one sent initially early in the morning of of Friday 6th May 2016, pointing out, based on early results, that the SNP were about to lose their overall majority. As I watched the live TV on the night, it was about two hours before those commentating acknowledged that this was happening, despite it surely being obvious to the informed participants. Because conventional opinion in advance deemed such an outcome inconceivable. Even after it had long since been conceived by the votes of the actual electorate.

So let me start by conceding the most likely outcome of a Holyrood election next May. The SNP, possibly relying on The Greens, will still have a majority in the chamber. And the second most likely, they will still have a plurality. But if you express that second result a different way? The second most likely outcome of the next Holyrood election is that the SNP and their allies will no longer have a majority. For a second independence referendum or, unless they cobble together votes on an issue by issue basis, for anything else. In 2016, the SNP lost six seats. If that happens again, and the Greens simply stand still, the second referendum game's a bogey but Scotland will still need a government. 

So why has there been an utter silence on this? As New Labour stored up opinion poll lead over opinion poll lead in the run up to the 1997 election, there were still counterfactual pieces written about what a fifth continuous Tory term might mean. As we in turn stumbled to defeat in 2010, reams written about the potential post election landscape. In Scotland however? Complete silence from the commentariat about what, as I say, is the second most likely outcome of an election six months away. An outcome about which current polling suggests is improbable but hardly impossible. An outcome, in terms of no Party and its obvious allies having an outright majority, being what PR systems normally produce. 

Yesterday, Douglas Ross did us all a favour by breaking that silence. The Tories would do a deal with anybody except any party proposing a second independence referendum. And, to be fair, our own current leader, Richard Leonard, responded almost immediately. We would do a deal with anybody except the Tories. I have literally no idea why he said this.

Logically it would mean that if he had come an improbable second to an SNP/Green block denied an overall majority, his immediate response would be to offer that block continued support as the government of devolved Scotland. Because he would never do a deal with the Tories. Even if Douglas Ross tracked him down on a picket line somewhere and begged him to become First Minister, even offering to take his place and hold his placard while he got on with the job, Richard would still never do a deal with the Tories. Really?

Dare I suggest it is not as simple as that. Let's model my six losses for the SNP, assuming an equal division of spoils. It gives you 57 Nats, 6 Greens, 33 Tories, 26 Labour and 7 Libs. 

Now let's look at the law. The aftermath of an Scottish Parliamentary election is dictated by sections 3 and 46 of the Scotland Act 1998. Unlike at Westminster, a First Minister does not remain in office until someone else is appointed. Rather, within 28 days the new Parliament must elect (or re-elect) a First Minister. If they do not, then there is another election. The Parliament itself can't change this because it is in the Act. Simple as that. 

The First Minister so elected has to win a majority of votes cast, so, if, on my model, the three "unionist" parties voted consistently against any SNP nominee but failed to take any other initiative, there would be another election. 

But why conceivably would they do that? "Unnecessary" elections are never popular with the electorate. Those responsible never prosper. They are also expensive. And refighting an election on the platform that the choice was either continued stability (of sorts) with a returned SNP majority or, alternatively,  probably a third election. Really?

So there would be a mutual "unionist" interest in their not being an immediate further contest. At least until the Autumn of 2021, probably, assuming the local government elections still go ahead, until the Autumn of 2022 at the earliest.

But what happens in between!!!???

Surely the unionist parties also have a mutual interest in denying the SNP the advantages of continued incumbency? Of using public money to subtly and sometimes even not so subtly promote their separatist agenda. Of using the power of patronage to reward their friends or the threat of patronage withdrawn to silence their critics. And that logically must involve Labour talking to the Tories about some sort of interim administration.

Now would this be difficult or far from perfect? Of course it would. Labour and the Tories are agreed about the failures of the SNP but have radically different solutions. No Labour Party would support the criminal justice changes Douglas Ross proposed yesterday just as no Tory Party would support the permanent nationalisation of Scotrail. Much of the criticism of the SNP for being unwilling to do anything "bold" for fear of imperilling that part of their electorate with a vested interest in the status quo, would undoubtedly carry forward to an administration unable to do anything bold because the bold things the Tories would do would horrify us and vice versa.

But such an administration would not be without potential opportunities where we and the Tories (and the Libs) actually do agree. I say that particularly in relation to local government. We are entirely agreed that the failure to pass Barnett funding on to local authorities must stop. We are entirely agreed local government must be given more power and more respect. Written in to law. Although this would require a policy change on Labour's part, we might now be strangely agreed on directly elected Lord Provosts. We might even be able to find a way forward on non-domestic rates reform.

We would also have a mutual interest in rebranding the Scottish Government to reflect its true constitutional status. No more Saltires (alone) on everything from letterheads to commemorative plaques. No more overseas embassies. A happy embrace and acknowledgement of projects directly funded by the UK Government. Agreement with the UK Government when possible and respectful disagreement when required. But with the emphasis on respectful.  

I also think there is probably more agreement than you'd think on Pandemic recovery, using the powers of the Parliament to support small businesses and the Green revolution coming to assist the private sector (yes) in exploiting Scotland's natural resources in this regard. 

I couldn't see such an administration lasting five years. We and the Tories have too many genuine differences of opinion for that but I could certainly see it having a useful two years. While the SNP tore themselves apart over their (supposed) missed opportunity after Brexit and worked out that they hadn't known what they had with Nicola until she was (surely) gone.

The big question however remains which Party secures the key position of First Minister. I can't conceive of  us ever voting for a Tory FM or indeed them ever reciprocating. My answer would be neither. It should go to the third member of the triumvirate, the Lib Dems, on the understanding that this was to be a collegiate administration with the incumbent more chair than chief executive. 

But I also want to finish by stating one further clincher argument for Labour. If the Nats lose their majority and Labour stands aside, we will eventually get to a situation whereby the SNP, having been perceived to have lost the election, are nonetheless being kept in power by the Labour Party. If he had thought that through, that's above all why Richard should not have been so speedy in his response.




Sunday, 15 November 2020

Step aside brother.

The next few weeks are my least favourite period of the whole year. Autumn's glories are fast fading and all of that season's rituals passed. The September weekend; Halloween; Guy Fawkes night; Remembrance Sunday and, probably now also on that list, the start of Strictly. Yet the Winter Solstice and the Christmas Festival of celebration to follow are still a bit too far away to provide (forgive the cliche) a light on the horizon.

Yet last week was a good week. A vaccine was announced. Biden was confirmed as the winner of the US Presidential election to the satisfaction of everybody except Trump. Scotland qualified for a major football tournament. In UK politics Dominic Cummings was despatched back to Barnard Castle to spend more time with his family, while the Labour Party NEC was decisively regained by those who are more interested in winning elections than in excusing anti Semitism. In Scotland, there was even a straw in the wind that the pandemic fuelled bubble of enthusiasm for Scottish independence might be beginning to deflate.   

But in the midst of all this good news, one grim spire stood standing. Richard Leonard's ongoing disastrous leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. While it was good to be reminded by last week's events that you don't always lose, Scottish Labour remains in a mindset of not even trying to win.

There was a by-election in Edinburgh on Thursday. In what as recently as the 2012 local government elections was a Labour Stronghold. Not only did we not come second, we very nearly came fourth behind the Greens. 

Now, at a UK level, there seems little doubt that the accession of Starmer has led to a Labour recovery. I actually have some sympathy with the Corbynistas argument that had Corbyn been the only problem for Labour we should actually be doing better still but equally the more sentient of them would concede that, for whatever reason, we have gone from being consistently behind the Tories under their hero to being at least neck and neck.

But there has been no recovery in Scotland. That despite the following undisputed facts.

1. While Johnson's management of the pandemic has been hapless, Sturgeon's, presentation aside, has been at least as bad. Indeed, factoring in population density, arguably significantly worse. Tellingly, even Devi Sridhar, asked on Channel 4 News weeks back whether Scotland had done better than England, pretended to misunderstand the question and talked instead about something else. And nobody would surely have been keener than her to answer with an emphatic "Yes", had that been conceivably possible to justify. 

2. There is something fishy about the Salmond case. Something that is, behind the scenes, causing a very real schism within the SNP. A schism that has led or is leading a significant faction within the Party to contemplate removing Sturgeon from her current position of leadership, personal opinion poll ratings notwithstanding. Even today,  Sturgeon is spending your and my money to try to get a court order to prevent the publication of a paragraph in an email she sent to the Permanent Secretary about this matter. A most unusual thing to have to do if she was truly taking no part in the process, then or now. Jackie Baillie is playing a blinder on this but Leonard is looking on like Zelig. He seems to misunderstand that being "present but not involved" was not one of the greatest merits of our recently departed UK leader. 

3. The Scottish Government is tired. That is not a partisan point. All government's get tired after too long in office. Clement Attlee's revolutionary government of the left got tired, perhaps to soon but after delivering so much. Just as Margaret Thatcher's revolutionary government of the right also got tired. If we were being honest, excepting Brown and Darling's response to the crash, the latter years of New Labour leave little in the memory. But as each failed someone had to be positioned to pick up the baton. The sole purpose of the SNP running the Scottish Government was to have an independence referendum. They did. They lost. No matter how much they might pretend otherwise to emolliate their kilt wearing, flag waving, rank and file, there will not be another such event in the immediate future. Even if there were somehow, the nationalists do not have a coherent argument to make. This is hardly a difficult argument for an opposition to articulate. 

Yet Scottish Labour remains utterly irrelevant to the political process. Obsessed with internal wrangling over who gets the distinction of failing to get elected as a Labour candidate next May. A complete policy free zone. An organisational shambles. 

Now, just as Corbyn was not the only problem for the UK Party almost a year ago, Richard Leonard is not the only problem for us here in Scotland. It wasn't a left wing leadership who lost the last Holyrood elections or indeed presided over our original collapse in 2015. But there is simply no way his continued occupation in office is helping the situation. He has, to be fair, upped his media profile but it is too late. Nobody is listening and, excepting a running commentary on internal matters and a wholly confused narrative as to where we stand on a second referendum, he has, anyway, literally nothing of interest to say. Anybody think that Anas or Jackie would not improve matters somewhat in what should be the only important measure of performance, how well would we do at the polls? Can they win a Scottish General Election, in the sense of gaining a plurality of votes? Almost certainly not. But can they gain enough ground to deny the nationalists an overall majority? That remains to me a real possibility. And perhaps someone should be saying what we might then do with the balance of power. 

But time is short. I've long been of the view that there should not be a Holyrood poll next May. Campaigning would be too difficult in current circumstances. No door knocking; no street stalls or leafleting; no public meetings or hustings; no rallies; no stickers or balloons. The result of the US Presidential Election might have been satisfying but the process leading up to it was not. I suspect with a less controversial incumbent it might have been delayed by cross Party agreement.

But there is no way the SNP will want to waste their current poll advantage brought about by their (or at least Nicola's) impression of being the, pandemic assisted, only show in town. They also will want the election over before any pandemic post mortems have time to be concluded and before they are finally obliged to publish their much delayed report into the state of Scottish education. 

So, it will be May. Less than five months away. For Scottish Labour, less than five months away from disaster. 

The STUC is currently running a campaign to increase the number of women in leadership roles under the slogan "Step aside brother". A proud trade unionist, Richard should take the hint. Otherwise, as a distinguished historian of the Scottish Labour Party, he may well end up writing its obituary.


 



Saturday, 24 October 2020

17

 I am not generally a superstitious person but I've always had a thing about the number 17.

Insofar as there is a "logic" to this, when I was aged 17, my grandfather, uncle and father all died and since then it is a number I have tried to avoid. As a much younger man, it held a particular terror when I played cricket. Indeed I was once run out trying for an eighteenth run in an attempt not to be stuck on 17!

Later, I have always tried to avoid seats or rows numbered 17, or planning events for the 17th and, when I merged my legal practice a few years back, I had a certain apprehension about doing this in......2017.

Nonsense! I hear you say.

Except that when I woke up on the 17th of October I was feeling pretty rough. I'd been fine the day before, had run a trial and then had my usual Friday curry and bottle of wine. The wine had tasted a bit odd but beyond that an ordinary day.

But the next morning I woke up all aches and pains and with a bit of a sore head. I thought it was perhaps the wine. I had no temperature or cough or gastrointestinal symptoms. Paracetamol made things a bit better but I was seized with an extreme lethargy which didn't lift all day. Most strangely, I had absolutely no appetite. At about 3pm I realised I hadn't eaten, so I made myself a roll and sausage but, after a few bites, I had no inclination to finish it. Later I had half a fish supper in a similar spirit. I went to bed early thinking I'd probably be fine the next day. As indeed I was a bit, so much so that Andi and I went out shopping for various items needed for our current home improvements. But I remained really tired and, again, up for little of the roast pork dinner one of Andi's boys had cooked.

On Monday, I worked from home. As is quite easy and common at the moment. Had the working world been "normal" I don't think I would have stayed off, particularly as, had things been normal, that would have involved cancelling client appointments.

On Tuesday however I developed a persistent cough and the suspicion what might be wrong became a bit more than that. This is only anecdotal but I can't find any fault with what happened next. First thing Wednesday, I signed up on the website for a test. It was briefly down but for no more than ten minutes. I was directed to Coatbridge that lunchtime, provided the swabs required and was told I'd probably get the result the next day as indeed I did. I had a text when I first picked up the phone the next morning. I was positive for Coronavirus. Within 24 hours so were also confirmed Andi and my stepson Crawford, Sunday's cook. At lunchtime on Thursday I was phoned by the contact tracers and dealt with them in ten minutes. 

We're are all fine, although I remain very tired and lethargic. Yesterday I slept until one in the afternoon and again until noon today. Even when awake I have no inclination to any great physical or mental activity. Normally if I was lying in bed ill I would read something and/or listen to the radio. Not this time. I still have little appetite although its clearer now that's because my taste is affected. Even if I wasn't required to isolate I wouldn't be well enough to go to my work. 

But, insofar as I understand matters, if I was going to get worse then that would be happening by now. And I am not.

No idea how I got it. I've only been in the house or the office for the last week and nobody else in the office is ill. I had one face to face client meeting but they are fine.

So that's my story. 

Except that I'd say that this has brought home to me, much more even than seven months of hugely disrupted living, that this is a real thing. And it is not going away.


Tuesday, 20 October 2020

A fundamental misunderstanding

There have been a lot of polls in recent months about how people would vote in a hypothetical second independence referendum and there is no denying these polls tend to show a majority for separation. 

We are however in very peculiar circumstance. The Country is in the middle of a pandemic and virtually the only voice heard is that of the First Minister. The new leader of the Scottish Tories remains a largely unknown quantity while although their best known politician is back on stage it is only for a farewell tour. The leadership of the Scottish. Labour Party, is execrable. We also have an exceptionally unpopular UK Government not only pursuing, it appears, the exceptionally unpopular (in Scotland) goal of a no deal Brexit but also led by a man who epitomises all that can be worst in the traditional English ruling classes. Despite that, hobbled by the legacy of Corbynism, we seem a very long way from being likely to elect an alternative Labour Administration at Westminster. On any view, the perception (if not the reality) is that the Coronavirus crisis is being handled more competently by the Scottish than the UK Government. Few would argue that Sturgeon is a more accomplished media performer than Johnson in at least giving the impression she knows what she is doing. Finally, Independence is for the moment being allowed to be whatever you want it to be with no regard to the massive contradictions within that whatever is, let alone any serious consideration of how all this might be paid for. 

So, in some ways it is no surprise that in the midst of this perfect storm, support for the union has drifted away. Indeed if the separatists couldn't secure a temporary poll lead in these circumstances, it is difficult to see when they ever might.  

But, in common with much of the self interested commentary we see in the press that I have referred to here before, people are being invited to draw precisely the wrong conclusion from these polls. The fact that the separatists might win a referendum is not a reason for the UK Government to allow one. It is precisely the reason they would not. That is the fundamental misunderstanding on the nationalist side

So let's move forward not to the 2021 Holyrood election (if there even is such an event) but to the 2024 Westminster one. Let's assume, not least thanks to Johnson's performance today, the red wall has been rebuilt and fresh parts of England won over. The Nats still dominate Scotland however, so despite our best efforts, at close of poll the Tories retain a plurality but not a majority of seats. Their support would give a Labour Government a commons majority. What happens then? The SNP MPs would become government lobby fodder. Their current social democratic positioning would force them to say they would never support a Tory Government. So they would have no leverage at all. They could certainly "say" they wouldn't vote for a Labour Queen's speech but in truth, not doing so has only one logical outcome. Supporting a successful Tory defeat of a potential Labour Government. Leading to a second election where the only way to get a Labour Government would be to vote Labour. Good luck to the Nats in going back to the polls on that basis.. And, anyway, why would a Labour Government destabilise itself, while discrediting  it with the very "British" voters it lost to the Tories over Brexit and could easily lose again, all to permit an event the outcome of which could be the loss of its Commons majority?

The logic of this seems to me incontestable.

There is no way any UK Government allows a second referendum. At least for a true lifetime.  

Over to you Nicola.