In recent weeks Theresa May has stressed her commitment to the UK while Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly warned that failure to protect Scotland’s European interests could lead to another referendum on Scottish independence as early as next year. However, the question of the specific timing of any referendum may have the potential to disrupt SNP unity.
Former SNP leader Alex Salmond and former deputy leader Jim Sillars, along with other disaffected groups such as the SSP and RISE, have been vocal in their support for indyref2 and in the wake of Brexit it is clear that they are determined to push for a timely referendum on Scottish independence. Nicola Sturgeon has been much more cautious on the topic; only stating that “all options” are being considered.
She is right to be cautious. Failure in another referendum is unthinkable for the SNP as the question of independence would well and truly be settled for a generation. We have seen from the Quebec succession movement that after their very narrowly failed second independence bid that there is little to no enthusiasm for a third and the separatist Quebec party support has diminished greatly. The question of when to call the referendum is therefore of enormous importance for the future of the SNP.
A swift independence referendum would undoubtedly draw the support of the vast majority of the 45% who voted ‘Yes’ in 2014 but could land the SNP in a precarious position. Pressured into calling it too early by vocal members of the party they risk not having enough support to win; too late and they risk squandering the highpoint of SNP popularity.
Yet with major question marks remaining over issues of the economy and currency, along with oil prices showing little sign of recovery and an enormous budget deficit, the SNP face considerable challenges to sway those who voted ‘No’.
Similarly, the terms of Brexit are currently unknown. If Brexit Secretary David Davis MP is able to deliver a deal which maintains Scotland’s links to the EU and allows access to the single market it may be difficult to make the case for another referendum, and even if the deal falls short of this it will be up to the SNP to present a more attractive alternative.
If Sturgeon wants to try and build the case for independence amongst ‘No’ voters she will likely attempt to frame the debate as a question of sovereignty.
However, in order to do this she needs time; but with voices amongst her party claiming it is now or never she may not be afforded as much as she would like.