SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s rush for Scottish independence smacks of desperation – Patrick Mercer

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out the case for a second referendum on Scottish independence, during a statement at Bute House in Edinburgh.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out the case for a second referendum on Scottish independence, during a statement at Bute House in Edinburgh.
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WE’RE a house divided. My wife’s a Scot (a proper one, by the way, from Skye and Gaelic speaking) and has applied ruthless logic to the independence issue.

Although she and I stand together on Brexit, we differ over Nicola Sturgeon’s stance. My wife’s view is very simple: she’s not a braying Braveheart, but she cannot understand why any country would not want to be master of its own destiny.

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And that, of course, is the deepest fault line in the SNP’s argument. It makes not one whit of sense to be passionately against union with your closest neighbour and equally passionate about union with a distant bloc with whom you share neither a common language nor a currency.

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That’s why I was never convinced by Alex Salmond’s approach to independence. It always seemed to me that he consummately exploited the English establishment, pushing it just so far, twisting Tory sensibilities about their few Scottish seats and gaining more and more political leverage as he did so.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out the case for a second referendum on Scottish independence, during a statement at Bute House in Edinburgh.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out the case for a second referendum on Scottish independence, during a statement at Bute House in Edinburgh.

The Archbishop of York’s Christmas message – Cherish peace and goodwill and strive for reconciliation

I always thought that he fully understood the overweening economic sense of Scotland remaining in the Union and that he probably heaved a secret sigh of relief when his countrymen voted to remain.

But not so Nicola Sturgeon. She’s a true believer, blinded by a narrow xenophobia and the prestige that she enjoys in her own country. And that’s something that should never be underestimated because the First Minister is an extremely astute operator who, in many parts of Scotland, enjoys a popularity – almost a cult following – that I’ve seldom seen in other politicians.

It was noticeable, for instance, that whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour shied away from an election for which they’d been begging for years, Ms Sturgeon was in an almost indecent rush to get to the polls.

Why was the First Minister in such a hurry? Well, first, because she’s a canny politician who sensed an opportunity and second, because she knew that a couple of very nasty realities were approaching that could wreck her project.

The sensed opportunity, of course, was the resignation of the Tories’ Ruth Davidson. Not unlike the First Minister, Ms Davidson wielded a huge amount of personal influence. Ms Sturgeon knew that without Ruth Davidson blue seats would fall and she needed to strike quickly before a new leader could emerge.

And so it proved: the Scottish Tories and Labour collapse has given the SNP a majority which they’ll need in the approaching storm.

The nasty realities, though, revolve around competence. During the election campaign, the Scottish Government crowed that, unlike England’s troubled railway system, everything was on track.

But it now appears that Scotrail’s operator, Abelio, is about to have its 10-year contract terminated almost six years early, whilst taxpayers will have to cough up for another unwelcome bill of £114m for two, new CalMac ferries whose price tag seems to have doubled. Now Ms Sturgeon’s crew are being accused of burying this news until after the election.

Similarly, the Scottish NHS is reeling from the news that its flagship children’s hospital in Edinburgh cannot open due to design faults and contaminated water supplies in Glasgow have been blamed for the deaths of several patients.

These calamities underline the much wider question of the SNP’s suitability for government, with many suggesting that they can’t survive after independence and the scrapping of the Barnett Formula – the mechanism by which public spending is divided across the UK.

No matter how the SNP tries to spin it, the Scots get a full 20 per cent more per head of population than the English.

On independence this would disappear, as would the protection of the Bank of England to underwrite debts whilst the promised oil boon has evaporated. It’s got to be asked – doesn’t the EU have enough basket cases already? Why accept another?

Probably the greatest impetus for a quick and successful election outcome for the SNP, though, was Mr Salmond’s impending court case – no one knows how this will play out with the voting public or what the potential political fallout will be at Holyrood.

Having revealed that she held a meeting with Salmond at her home where he briefed her on a Scottish government inquiry into sexual harassment allegations against him – which he strenuously denies – it has been suggested that the meeting and a subsequent telephone call to Salmond were in clear breach of the ministerial code.

Accordingly, Sturgeon has referred herself to an independent ministerial ethics body since discussions with outsiders on government business must be reported to civil servants.

My arguments with Mrs Mercer about Scottish independence will run for a while yet, I have no doubt.

But I’ll take some comfort in the increasing note of desperation which I detect in 
the SNP’s arguments – no wonder that it is in such a hurry to bite the hand that feeds 
them.

Patrick Mercer OBE is a former Conservative MP for Newark.