Indyref2: Scottish battle lines drawn again in run-up to May’s election

By Nick Eardley
BBC political correspondent

Publishedduration2 hours ago

image copyrightReuters

image captionThe government has suggested it will reject calls for another referendum but unionists worry how sustainable this is

Supporters of the Union are nervous.

A number of recent polls on Scottish independence suggest there is now a majority in support of leaving the UK. The SNP have started calling independence the “settled will of the Scottish people”.

The issue is set to dominate the run-up to the Holyrood election in May. Polls also suggest the SNP are on for a comfortable win – which will make calls for another vote on independence even louder.

In this situation, the SNP will have gone into the election arguing it should have the power to hold another referendum – and will have won.

So what is Westminster going to do? The immediate answer is a simple one. It will say no.

Last week the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told the BBC there shouldn’t be another referendum for a generation – adding that could be as long as 40 years.

Although some Tories have discussed the prospect of a snap referendum – both publicly and privately – senior figures in government intend on rejecting calls for indyref2 next year, whatever the outcome of the Holyrood vote.

And as things stand, they hold a trump card.

Legal process

Although some in the SNP are itching for a Plan B (which we’ll revisit in the coming weeks) – Nicola Sturgeon wants an agreed, legal process with Westminster so that if Scotland votes for it, independence is seen as legitimate.

But the debate doesn’t end there. As ever with politics – the full story is more complicated.

In the corridors of power in London, some believe unionists are losing the argument. They accept polls are likely to get worse for them – with support for independence increasing in the coming months.

They accept many “soft unionists” are unhappy with Brexit and the way the UK government has pursued it.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionOpinion polls suggest growing support for independence but an SNP majority in May’s election is far from guaranteed

Some acknowledge privately that Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has made her more popular – and impressed Scots who may have not been convinced about independence before.

Sir John Major – who has long warned Brexit would make independence more likely – has argued that saying no to another referendum after an SNP victory may well help their case.

He suggested two referendums; one on independence and one on the terms. His intervention shows some in Conservative circles are thinking about what to do next.

The fear that saying no is unsustainable is shared by some in government.

They worry that if the SNP wins comfortably in May,

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