"And the same would be true if we ended up trying to have a referendum that the other side would say was illegal. The beauty of 2014 was that it was an agreed process. So all this is taking me to the point of: I don't have an easy answer to this, because we may get into a situation where the UK government says 'No, we're not going to agree to a Section 30 order' and you know, I think if that happens we need to look above that, we need to make a case of how unreasonable that is, and ultimately if the only way through that is to take that to an election, and ask the people of Scotland to use an election to say no, we will absolutely have the right to do this, maybe that's what that would take."
Let's start with the good news. Although some people are interpreting this as the first concrete evidence that Ms Sturgeon might be minded to adopt the Pete Wishart "Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold! Hoooold! Hoooooooold! HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD!" strategy and let the current mandate for a pre-2021 independence referendum expire, on my reading that very clearly isn't what she is saying at all. It sounds much more like she is at least planning to attempt to use the mandate, and will at some point over the coming weeks or months renew her demand for a Section 30 order. If so, fantastic, that's just what most of us are crying out for.
The bad news is that her thinking on a consultative referendum doesn't appear to have moved on since early 2017 (a time when everyone still naively thought London would accept Scotland's right to democratic self-determination). In other words, Ms Sturgeon still doesn't believe a referendum is worth holding unless it has London's consent, and therefore if a Section 30 order isn't granted, we won't go ahead in the immediate future. That needlessly gives London a veto of sorts, at least in the short term, and that doesn't seem satisfactory at all. I'm particularly puzzled by her use of the word "illegal", because any consultative referendum held without a Section 30 would almost certainly only go ahead if the Supreme Court upheld the legislation, which would remove any doubt about the legality of the process. The Tories and Labour would just look silly if they tried to claim something the Supreme Court had endorsed was "illegal".
However, a needless aversion to a consultative vote isn't the end of the world as long as there is a credible alternative plan, and that's what makes the ambiguity in Ms Sturgeon's closing words so tantalising. Most people are interpreting it as meaning she would use the 2021 election to seek yet another mandate for a referendum, even though we already have a perfectly good one. (As our dear old American gun nut friend Kevin Baker used to say: "Do it again, only HARDER!!!!") I agree that's probably what she meant, but it's not at all clear. I would suggest that it's entirely possible to interpret "use an election to say no, we will absolutely have the right to do this" as meaning that the election will be used to seek an outright mandate for independence itself if a Section 30 order is denied. That would be a strategy most of us could happily unite behind.
But if the 'seek yet another mandate for a referendum' interpretation is the correct one, I think we're going to have to speak out against it, because the problems with that strategy are pretty obvious. If we win a pro-independence majority at the 2021 election (not a given, of course), and Westminster still says "no" to a referendum, what do we do then? We already know that Ms Sturgeon is unlikely to go ahead with a consultative referendum, so even if she belatedly accepts at that point that an election must then be used to seek an outright mandate for independence, there would be the rather enormous problem that another Holyrood election wouldn't be due until 2026. Any strategy that could leave us powerless for another eight years does not strike me as being a promising one.
Of course snap Westminster elections can sometimes appear out of the blue, and might offer an opportunity to seek a mandate (of whatever sort) more speedily than would otherwise be the case. But relying on blind chance doesn't seem like a great idea either.
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