Sturgeon plays for time on indyref2

The First Minister of Scotland has announced a ‘reset’ in her plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence, abandoning the timetable which would have seen one held during or immediately after the Brexit negotiations.

However, the BBC reports that Nicola Sturgeon still insists that it is “likely” that a poll will be held before 2021, presumably in order to try to make sure that one is organised before pro-independence MSPs risk losing their majority in the Scottish Parliament.

As Alex Massie points out in the Spectator, this isn’t really much of a delay. All the First Minister has really done is concede a six-to-twelve month delay in her preferred timetable. There are obvious reasons, beyond truly believing in it, why the Nationalist leadership would find properly dropping another referendum so difficult.

First, after this month’s slump support for independence now outpolls the SNP. Those pro-UK voters who backed the Nationalists as a competent, anti-Labour option appear to have moved decisively back to the Tories across a swathe of the party’s former rural heartlands.

Keeping separatist voters behind them is thus very important – especially when the SNP coalition is otherwise very divided on actual policy questions. The prospect of an imminent poll also helps to keep nationalist activists motivated.

But there’s a second, more human reason, again mentioned by Massie: Sturgeon is suddenly running out of time. Just as Alex Salmond got reckless when he sensed his chance to be the man who led Scotland out of the Union was slipping away, so too does his successor seem very reluctant to accept that her chance may never come.

Whilst this fudge might help to hold the Nationalist coalition together, it also suits their opponents: by keeping the constitution on the table Sturgeon has ensured that Ruth Davidson can keep playing her strongest card, opposition to another referendum, even as she harries the Scottish Government on its domestic record.

Green candidate mounts legal challenge to Conservative/DUP deal

During the Government’s negotiations with the Democratic Unionists there were a lot of very bad takes on the implications for the Good Friday Agreement. Now the reveals that a Green candidate from Northern Ireland has put his money where his mouth is.

Ciaran McClean intends to challenge the deal, which was finally agreed on Monday, in the courts and has instructed his solicitors to serve notice on the Government.

As Sam McBride (normally of the News Letter) points out on Twitter, the logic of this challenge would create a (genuine) constitutional crisis in the unlikely event it was upheld by the courts. It would place a formal legal bar on Northern Irish MPs participating in the government of their country and potentially contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Such a severe reinterpretation of the Agreement might also have a severe impact on its support amongst Unionists. During the campaign to get it signed no party suggested that it would forever ban Ulster representatives from UK government – whilst allowing Sinn Fein to take office in Dublin.

Meanwhile, the SNP are trying to make hay from the arrangement by wilfully misunderstanding how the Barnett Formula works and demanding that David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, deliver either cash or his resignation. He’s having none of it.

Adams says ‘new approach’ needed for Irish nationalists as Brexit hopes fade

Gerry Adams, the life president of Sinn Fein, has said that republicans need to change their tactics if they’re to persuade unionists of the benefits of a ‘united Ireland’.

Instead of focusing purely on “the negative aspects of our four centuries of shared history”, he argued, nationalists should instead try to build a programme around “good neighbourliness and the common good”.

(Whilst this sounds good, it remains rooted in classic republican refusal to credit unionists’ Britishness as something equally tangible and legitimate as Irish nationalism. Nobody is suggesting that Sinn Fein could ever move on sufficiently from the ‘negative aspects’ of Anglo-Irish history, or re-imagine their sense of Irishness enough, to support the Union.)

This change of tone comes after the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Arlene Foster, secured an extraordinary rebound at the general election, picking up two seats and taking almost 300,000 votes, up from just 185,000 in 2015.

After a dire result in March’s snap Assembly election, which saw Sinn Fein draw within one seat of tying with the DUP for largest party, this result seems to have taken some of the wind out of nationalist sails. Like the SNP, Sinn Fein strategists convinced themselves that, despite the balance of the economic case overwhelmingly favouring the Union with Great Britain, Brexit might provide them with an opening to tempt pro-UK voters into supporting accession to the Republic of Ireland in order to maintain EU membership.

But the close-run Assembly elections, where the DUP were dragged down by a public spending scandal centred on Foster, appears to have had the counter-productive effect of rallying unionist voters behind the DUP even as nationalists consolidated behind Sinn Fein, leaving the more moderate Ulster Unionists and SDLP with no MPs.