THE independence fundamentalists were left baying, the hardline Unionists are likewise forever baying and Middle Scotland, the decisive element, was barely moved, frankly.
But in amongst Nicola Sturgeon’s Holyrood intervention of April 24, there was, indeed, to my mind, a “substantive” shift in the First Minister’s position – with or without #Brexit withdrawal, as her dance around #Indyref2 made clear.
“The status quo is broken,” she declared, inviting creative constitutional options and arguing that Westminster, almost regardless of the #EU endgame, will now systematically “override” Scotland and a devolution settlement “no longer fit for purpose”.
She said a second poll on independence would be called “within the lifetime of this (Scottish) Parliament”, by 2021, but was far from convincing on whether this was exclusively predicated on European Union withdrawal as negotiated between Brussels and London.
She offered the pre-party conference sop to diehards in her SNP and the wider indy movement, beefed-up in a manner of speaking anyway by a pretty clear shot at Downing Street that Scotland “does not need” the Section 30 legal instrument signed by predecessor Alex Salmond and David Cameron, to render the outcome binding.
There is a legal opportunity, after all, anchored in ‘the Scottish Case’ ruling at the European Court of Justice, which served up notably the unilateral right for Theresa May to revoke the Article 50 Brexit process.
The detailed argument needn’t be dissected here, but it establishes a right some very smart lawyers vastly experienced in the dark arts of Brussels politicking might even privately recognise as bricked-up by the infamous judicial ‘arbitration’ structure offered up to resolve post-Brexit disputes with the UK Supreme Court. (Or indeed, as that process further amply demonstrated, the distinct authority of the Scottish courts).
But the bottom line, undeniably, was Sturgeon’s call for (r)UK to “bring forward your own proposals” – thereby presenting #Indyref2 as the stick, and “more common ground than many (nationalists) admit” as her Brexit-, not-EU-shaped carrot, to borrow from Boris…
That’s a slightly more realistic, still-apirational middle-highground that some properly powerful and influential pillars of the London Establishment have privately been dangling in the back-channels over recent months.
‘You want federalism?’ Auld Nic asked rhetorically of a surprised Liberal Democrat challenger in the Edinburgh Q&A? Her follow-up response was illuminating – Come ahead!
Powder still dry
Sure, the FM’s pitch fell well shy of a new referendum date, well shy of a Section 30 demand (or kite) even — and well shy of a clear, Edinburgh-driven pathway to Scotland’s constitutional future, independent of the Brexit outcome.
But it landed far, far closer to the kind of new union of ‘indy’ UK states that is creating a fertile terrain for those ready and willing to re-imagine the ties that bind, and perhaps yet meaningfully re-distribute the powers that be?
If you will pardon a wee Brexit-inspired gag, many will doubt still just how serious Nicola is about exploring what we might henceforth call a ‘Canada-Plus’ variant as a solution for Scotland in its future relations with the other nations and special jurisdictions of the old UK (think trade and security, beyond currency and customs…).
It is one stopping short of outmoded nation-state independence paradigms. And one scratching at new answers.
Just as the nation-state replaced Empire, so the plates delineating optimal, governable units within larger, common systems are again moving.
So, as The Proclaimers once famously sang, after today’s tease — the doubters in Downing Street or on Schuman roundabout just up the hill from where I fight, need doubt Scotland’s leadership “no more”.
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