Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

Boris Johnson told devolution ‘genie out of bottle’ as Sturgeon ramps up independence push

Nicola Sturgeon ‘won’t compromise on independence’ says expert

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is too far along with her plans for independence for Mr Johnson to stop her, a leading trade unionist and Labour member told Things took a sudden turn this week when the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) National Executive Committee published a paper outlining that an independence referendum deadline of March 31 must be set for Westminster in advance of the Scottish Parliament election in May. The deadline would include the requirement to agree to a “section 30 request” which would transfer power to Holyrood for a referendum.

If the Prime Minister did not agree to the section 30 order, the paper says Ms Sturgeon and the SNP must make independence the “focus” of the upcoming election campaign.

Mr Johnson has consistently refused to entertain the idea of a second Scottish independence referendum, following the “once-in-a-generation” ballot in 2014.

He said the gap between the referendums on Europe – the first in 1975 and the second in 2016 – was an example of a “good sort of gap”, while speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

This would mean that Scotland should not think about calling another referendum until 2055.

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Others like Paul Embery, the trade unionist, are sceptical of this rhetoric from the Prime Minister, and say the demand and fervour for Scottish independence may have gone too far.

He told “I think the strength of feeling for independence in the devolved administrations, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, tends to grow when the Tories are in Westminster.

“Many people in those countries are not Tories and see the Tories as the enemy and see independence as some sort of escape from it.

“But in many respects I think the genie’s out of the bottle.

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“Ironically, the whole point of the New Labour Government under Tony Blair, bringing in devolution 20 years ago, was because it felt there were moves towards independence, and actually devolution was a way of choking it off, choking off any campaign for independence.

“Blair thought, ‘Well, if we give people devolution that’ll kill independence.’

“But actually, I think the opposite has happened, it’s added momentum to the campaign for independence.

“So I don’t think that genie’s going to go back in the bottle.”

Although, Mr Embery added: “I don’t necessarily think it’s inevitable, but I don’t think the strength of feeling for independence is going to dissipate any time soon.”

The Labour Party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor.

In December, he announced his plans to open a “constitutional commission” that would spread devolution to all corners of the UK should Labour win power in the 2024 general election.

On hearing the news Ms Sturgeon branded Sir Keir a “constitutional tinkerer”, adding that Scottish Labour had no chance of challenging the SNP’s dominance north of the border.


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Many noted the move was a sign the Labour leader is fearful that an independent Scotland would send his party into oblivion.

Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, told that “it might be too late” to prevent Scots from voting to leave.

He said: “As we speak we know that there is a majority in Scotland, and an increasing one for independence.

“Sir Keir’s plans are about Scotland, not Wales or Northern Ireland.

“As things stand, the one argument the SNP has, the strongest one it has, is a Tory Government led by Boris Johnson.

“If things remain the same, it’s very likely they’ll push for a referendum in the future and they’ll win it.

“Starmer’s argument is that if we don’t say we’re going to devolve power, as a kind of way to keep the Scots in the union, they’re going to leave – he’s the only leading politician that wants a union and wants to do something about it.

“Whether it works or not, I don’t know – it might be too late.”

Despite all of this, hopes for independence might be thwarted by the SNP itself.

Last week, former SNP leader Alex Salmond accused Ms Sturgeon of misleading Parliament over an inquiry into the handling of sexual assault claims against him.

Politico noted that the move not only put at risk, “the reputations of two of the leading figures in Scotland’s secessionist cause, but the future of the independence fight itself”.

Several polls have found that if an independence referendum was called today, Scotland would vote “Yes” to leaving the UK.

Holyrood’s spring elections take place at the beginning of May this year.

Ms Sturgeon is thought to be keen on gauging national sentiment for independence during the ballot.

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