14 Mar 2017
This article first appeared in the Daily Mail.
Since they took office ten long years ago, the SNP’s boast has been that they “speak for Scotland.”
Yesterday will go down as the day that this typically arrogant claim was smashed to pieces, for good.
In complete defiance of the settled will of the majority of Scots, Nicola Sturgeon walked into her official residence in Bute House and blithely announced she wanted to take us all back to the division and uncertainty of another referendum.
On this – the most fundamental of all issues in Scotland, on which all of us voted on less than three years ago – she does not speak for Scotland.
She does not even speak for a significant number of independence supporters who, like me, do not want to go back to the divisions of the past.
The conclusion from yesterday is clear: this SNP Government has effectively given up governing for all of Scotland, and is now fixated solely on its own interests, and its own obsession with independence
My view remains the same: we do not want this, we should not have to go through this – and Nicola Sturgeon should take it off the table.
I am sorry to say that her decision yesterday was entirely in keeping with the way this narrow-minded administration has, from the very start, dealt with our decision to leave the European Union.
Instead of asking how best to support Scotland through the process of Brexit, Sturgeon’s political operation simply spotted an opportunity to insert the divisive and repetitive independence debate back into Scotland’s bloodstream.
Wind back to the 24th June last year, when the First Minister stood up at the same podium in Bute House, on the morning after the Brexit decision.
The votes had not even been fully counted and yet Nicola Sturgeon was already announcing that civil servants had been instructed to draft an independence referendum bill.
Months of earnest talk then followed, with SNP Ministers desperately trying to claim that the last thing it wanted was another referendum on independence – something too many Labour MSPs fell for.
We now can see how hollow that attempt was.
I know that, across Scotland, many people will today be feeling that same sense of nagging uncertainty that we felt we had left behind in 2014.
I know many people across Scotland will feel deeply worried today as a result of her announcement.
But rather than simply accepting the First Minister’s reckless proposal, this is a moment for us to make our voice heard, and politely but firmly demand that the First Minister listens to us and changes tack.
She should listen to the voices of job-creators across Scotland who yesterday warned that fresh uncertainty in the form of a referendum would only dent their plans for growth.
She should listen to the Scottish chamber of commerce who said yesterday : “Scotland has been through two referendums and two major elections over the past three years, and there is no doubt that this period of continual uncertainty has had a material impact upon businesses in Scotland”
She shoud listen to people like Grant Simpson, an engineer in Edinburgh, who yesterday tweeted: “I could weep. A mix of anger and distress at what Sturgeon is knowingly doing to us. Had been thinking about buying premises. Doubt that now.”
She should listen to the teachers, doctors and public service workers who want the SNP Government to focus on the day job – but who now know that the necessary reforms and decisions that need to be made to make their jobs easier will be pushed to one side as the SNP gears up for a constitutional battle once again.
Nicola Sturgeon said that education would be this government’s “number one priority”. How does that square with a referendum campaign that will only divert her away from the job we pay her to do?
She should listen to the 2 million of us who voted No to independence in 2014; people who took that decision on a promise it would be a “once in a generation” vote and still expect to have that decision respected.
She should listen to the many thousands of people who – like me – voted Remain in the EU referendum last year but who are furious that our vote is now being co-opted as part of Nicola Sturgeon’s independence drive.
I did not vote Remain in order to see my vote used to make the case for separating my country in two. Nor did thousands like me.
And she should listen to the many people in Scotland who back independence but who do not think this is the right time to re-visit this question once again.
People like the Rev. David Robertson, a Church minister in Dundee who voted Yes in 2014 but who has now lodged a petition in the Scottish Parliament opposing an early referendum on independence because – in his words – “we cannot afford to be distracted by another lengthy, divisive and bitter campaign.”
And she should listen to SNP people like Alex Neil and Jim Sillars, who backed a Leave vote in the EU referendum last year, and who now argue that the process of leaving the European Union should now be respected before the question of independence is raised.
All these voices deserve to be heard. Yet all are now being ignored.
It simply isn’t right.
A clear precedent was made in the run up to the 2014 referendum. Following the SNP’s majority victory at Holyrood, all parties agreed that the SNP government had a mandate to hold a referendum. We all then worked to ensure that the referendum was fair, legal and decisive.
This time round, none of those factors apply. The SNP lost its majority in the Scottish Parliament. There is no cross-party consensus on the question of a referendum. And it is patently clear that most people in Scotland do not want to go back there.
And, whatever your views on Brexit, it is simply the case that none of the issues it throws up are answered by leaving a Union four times as important to us as the EU.
Given all that, a responsible First Minister would have agreed not to turn back the clock. A responsible First Minister would have agreed to throw her weight behind the UK’s coming negotiations with the European Union – and put her own political interests to one side.
Instead, we have a First Minister who yesterday displayed the kind of wanton irresponsibility more associated with her predecessor.
If Scotland has learned anything over the last five years, it is that referendums come at a cost. They can distract governments from the necessary job in hand. They create a binary division in society. They do not solve issues; they tend to lead to further division and uncertainty.
Nicola Sturgeon had it in her gift to show she understood that yesterday. Despite her support for independence – which I respect – she could easily have shown her determination to put stability and certainty first.
But, having recklessly led her troops to the top of the hill, she has chosen the path back towards division.
It wasn’t the act of a First Minister of Scotland, it was the act of a Nationalist leader who yesterday didn’t just demean herself – she demeaned her office as well.