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Tensions mount within the SNP over a second referendum

In relative terms, the Scottish Nationalists had an even poorer general election than the (British) Conservatives did, misplacing half a million votes and losing 21 seats to the resurgent unionist parties.

Now a party which has forged a slightly creepy, phalanx-like internal discipline on the back of ten years of unbroken success seems to be teetering “on the brink of civil war”, according to the Daily Telegraph, over the future of the party’s flagship policy of a second independence referendum.

Polls find that fewer than one in three Scots want the question re-opened anytime soon, yet as Alex Massie explains in the Spectator it looks as if Nicola Sturgeon – like Theresa May, so recently on top of the world – won’t let it go, for fear that she may forever lose her chance to be the person who leads Scotland out of the UK.

Now the old split between gradualists and true believers, which Alex Salmond appeared to have decisively won for the former camp back in the 1990s, look to be opening up again. Senior SNP figures are urging the First Minister to stick to her guns. But with many of the remaining Nationalist MPs facing narrow majorities and clearly identified unionist challengers, others are desperate to drop a policy which is uniting pro-UK voters against the party.

This divide also aligns with a split between the old Nationalist base in Tory-facing rural seats and the new wave of converts in central Scotland. Sturgeon apparently intends to reveal her plans ‘before the summer recess’ – finding a position that closes these divisions will be a real challenge.

Elsewhere another of the SNP’s anti-British policies is also under fresh pressure. The Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA), a rail union, has attacked the Scottish Government’s plan to merge the British Transport Police into their leviathan ‘Police Scotland’ force as “devolution for devolution’s sake” that will leave travellers with poorer protection.

First post-Brexit survey finds ‘no surge in support’ for Northern Irish secession

As the race narrowed ahead of the 2016 EU referendum, various potential threats to the Union were cited, with more or less conviction and plausibility, as reasons for sceptical voters who hold their noses and back Remain.

This site was sceptical, and in the year since that scepticism is holding up rather well. We rubbished the idea that leaving the EU jeopardised the Union in Wales and lo, Wales voted Leave. We expressed more measured scepticism about the potential impact on Scotland, and that country looks farther from independence than at any point since 2014 (see next item).

Northern Ireland was a slightly trickier question. The economic interest of Northern Ireland in continuing the Union is so emphatic as to be beyond plausible contestation, but that’s no guarantee in a province where communal loyalty has squeezed out normal left-right economic politics entirely. The Government’s lost majority and need to deal with the DUP has thrust the Province into the spotlight, but beyond Sinn Fein’s posturing the implications for its constitutional status haven’t been backed by much evidence.

Until now. This week the News Letter reveals the results of the “first major post-Brexit survey” of Northern Irish attitudes has recorded “no surge in support for Irish unity”. The latest Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, which had previously showed a large proportion – sometimes even a majority – of Catholics being comfortable with the status quo, found support for Ulster’s absorption into a Greater Irish state at just 19 per cent.

There are modest advances for the nationalist cause across most social groups (save for those aged 35-44), but nothing resembling the sort of shift that would require James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State, to call a border poll.

On the specific subject of Brexit, “the vast majority of people said that it had made no difference” to their position, compared to 16 per cent who were more likely to back leaving the UK and seven per cent who were less likely.

Duncan joins the Scottish Office and promises to work with the Scottish Government

Ian Duncan, the Conservative MEP for Scotland who fell so narrowly short of unseating Pete Wishart at the general election, has confirmed that he is joining the Government as a new minister at the Scotland Office, and will be created a life peer in order to take up the position.

The reasoning is that, as an experienced hand in Brussels, he can provide some useful experience to the UK bench during the Brexit negotiations and help to manage the Scottish dimensions of our departure.

It hasn’t proved an uncontroversial move. After an election in which the Conservatives picked up 12 new MPs north of the border, it seems unusual to resort to a fresh peerage to staff the Scotland Office. Ennobling Duncan so soon after his failure at the ballot box has also raised eyebrows.

More seriously, he then embroiled himself in a row over the negotiations when he suggested that the SNP-led Scottish Government should have a formal role in the Brexit talks, a position which had previously been firmly ruled out by the Government. His statement states that he will work “in close collaboration with the Scottish Government” but makes no mention of a formal role.

23 comments for: Henry Hill: SNP on ‘brink of civil war’ over second independence referendum

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