Yesterday we showed you a video of the First Minister of Scotland telling Andrew Marr about her ‘compromise offer’ to Theresa May: a second Scottish referendum would be off the table (for the moment) in the event of ‘soft Brexit’.
The Prime Minister has as yet shown no sign that she’s falling for Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff, and this latest about-face should not lead her to change course.
The SNP remains in the bind I outlined last week: they and much of the Scottish commentariat talked themselves into believing that a Leave vote would lead to a surge in support for independence. It didn’t, but Sturgeon clearly thought it would and went out on TV the morning after, talking up another referendum.
Yesterday’s interview is a public acknowledgement that there has been no spasm of outraged europhilia: the SNP’s position has softened from keeping Scotland in the EU to trying to leverage a ‘soft Brexit’. That’s progress, of a sort.
But the Government must never fall for the First Minister’s act. The only reason she hasn’t started agitating for a second referendum (she rightly lacks the constitutional power to unilaterally call one) is that she doesn’t believe she can win it, and that losing risks, a la Quebec, burying the prospect for a generation.
If at any point the Nationalists did think they could win a referendum, nothing the UK Government offered would be good enough. There’s no route to victory in buying them off – a lesson which ought to be well-learned in Westminster by now.
Trapped between the her activists, unmoved independence polling, and the trials of day-to-day governance, the First Minister is buying herself space in hope that an escape will present itself. Previous UK governments might have handed her one. It doesn’t look like May will.