Nicola Sturgeon has fought off a conveyor belt of inept Conservative governments. Her solution is predictable.

After Supreme Court's Scottish independence referendum ruling, Nicola Sturgeon should resign – Alastair Stewart

After Supreme Court’s Scottish independence referendum ruling, Nicola Sturgeon should resign – Alastair Stewart

In October, she said the best thing Liz Truss “could do for economic stability now is resign”. In July, she called on the “rotten lot to go” after Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak resigned. In January, she started the year by calling on Boris Johnson to resign over the Partygate affair.

So what to do when a desperate bid to gain sanction for a second independence referendum fails? First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should resign. And that resignation is not because she has wasted time and public money to verify a legal opinion clear as day to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the Scotland Act.

Sturgeon’s guilt is that she never tried hard enough. The people who profess to rage at the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision are missing the point entirely. The Scottish Government’s draft Referendum Bill always went beyond Scotland’s devolved powers; the decision was always a given.

Sturgeon sounded visibly unenthused at the press conference about the second independence drive on June 14. The Building a New Scotland policy series, making the case for independence, felt like late homework. There was no bombast, no vision, just an intense feeling of bitter frustration.

The statement to the Scottish Parliament on June 28, referring the provisions of the Bill to the Supreme Court, was redundant. It was a transparent, last-ditch effort to catch up after eight years of playing with your constitutional food. Legality is a piece of broccoli getting pushed from side to side.

Suppose that the SNP and Yes sides never stopped preparing for independence after losing the 2014 referendum. Imagine if they had carefully laid the groundwork with such a deluge of policy papers, analyses, and studies that Scottish independence needed only the gentlest push. Judge for yourselves if the UK Government and Westminster could resist that pressure when the pieces were already in place.

If Yes supporters should be raging at anyone, it is their own leaders. For close to a decade, they have only managed to draw up plans for proposals with strategies which consulted on procedures on roadmaps for the delivery of questions about an agreement for a vote. They forgot to do their homework and turned up to the exam blaming the SQA. No one is further forward in understanding what independence would mean. We are not back to square one; we never left it.

Scots voted by 55 to 45 per cent to remain in the United Kingdom. If you believe the rhetoric, this was such a narrow victory as to make a second referendum, nevermind independence, inevitable. But the lack of preparation and imagination to comprehensively answer the many unresolved questions from 2014 is tantamount to self sabotage.

The SNP keep winning elections. They have the moral mandate to hold a vote, but the mechanism to do so is entirely separate from whether they are prepared to fight a campaign with the necessary details. The public still needs answers about the most rudimentary particulars of foreign policy, budgets, immigration, infrastructure, defence and currency. For questions to be answered, there needs to be a concerted effort to find them.

But the Scottish Government’s strategy has been to secure a vote and then provide a detailed policy backbone. It is lunacy of the highest order to think securing a referendum magics up all the answers. That strategy failed in 2014. If Sturgeon is not at the top, if she is not responsible for the direction of independence as leader of the SNP and First Minister, who is?

Obsessed by the need to establish a process and legitimacy for a vote, the government has been distracted from health, schools, justice, education and every other devolved responsibility. Brexit and Covid are excuses that will get you so far.

Sustainable growth commissions, citizen assemblies, cross-party groups, demonstrations, and protests did and do nothing to cement answers in people’s minds. If anything, the gulf between the government’s actual track record and its claims about how good things will be if we could only leave the United Kingdom has widened.

Worse for Yes supporters is that the wounds to the movement were entirely self-inflicted. Why should a government which cannot manage the competencies that it has get more? Can it even navigate the monumental challenges of creating a new state? By presenting independence as the solution to every lagging devolved responsibility, they have treated people like fools.

No amount of shouting changes the fact we could have a referendum tomorrow, and none of the detail for how that new state would work would be there. The idea the next UK general election will be a “de facto” referendum is even more laughable. It will be more time wasted. Anyone can make a case for anything they want. “Making the case” for a referendum and arguing how Scotland is prepared for the rigours of independence are not the same.

If there is to be a change, it must start at the top. The First Minister cannot deny there are precedents for election-winning leaders being forced to resign – Boris Johnson secured the biggest Conservative Party election win since 1987 at the 2019 general election.

The biggest critics of the SNP under Sturgeon are those Yes supporters who feel her leadership has wasted time. Resignation is the only way to offer a clean slate.

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