First Minister tries to keep her grassroots on board ahead of party conference

Nicola Sturgeon is back in the newspapers, with headlines suggesting that she is going to demand a second vote on Scottish independence.

But in fact, it isn’t as straightforward as that. Whilst the First Minister continues to talk up the need for such a vote, she is fighting shy of either trying to set a date or demanding the authorisation from Westminster required to hold one. This is because, despite all the expectations that Brexit would spark a surge in support for breaking away from the UK, no such surge has arrived in the three years since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016.

This has put the SNP in a tricky position. Sturgeon, clearly believing the Remainer line about the fragility of the UK, declared in the aftermath of that vote that it constituted the change in circumstances the SNP felt was required for another independence referendum. When the wave failed to come in, she suddenly found herself trapped between her energised and expectant activist base and the cold reality of electoral arithmetic.

The First Minister will doubtless be watching the fate of Theresa May, who likewise spurred her Party towards an outcome she was unable (or at least unprepared) to deliver and is now reaping the whirlwind. Already the SNP’s legendary phalanx-like discipline is starting to fracture, with the Nationalist grassroots staging a rebellion against the Scottish Government’s ultra-cautious currency proposals, which also came under academic fire this week.

She may also have taken on board that it is very difficult to deliver seismic constitutional change on a narrow referendum win.

As Alex Massie sets out in the Spectator, Sturgeon still hopes that she can play for enough time to bring forward a winnable vote, perhaps if the separatist parties (the SNP and the Greens) win another combined majority in the next Holyrood elections.

In the meantime her goal is to continue to drive forward the fragmentation of the UK within the devolved framework in the manner which has become traditional since 1998: demand ever-more powers, blame all ills on Westminster, and present the preoccupations of the devocracy as the “constitutional aspirations of the Scottish people”.

Will McKee’s murder shake Ulster’s entrenched status quo?

Last Thursday night Lyra McKee, a widely-respected young Northern Irish journalist, was shot and killed by a gunman purporting to represent the New IRA, also known as ‘Saoradh’.

The week since has seen a flood of tributes to her and her work. Here’s one, from Stephen Daisley, and another from Ruth Dudley Edwards, but just putting her name into Google will throw up plenty more.

But it has also prompted the question: can even this appalling murder force the Northern Irish parties out of their trenches and, possibly, get devolution back on its feet?

Hopes were raised after Fr Martin Magill, the presiding priest at McKee’s funeral, won a standing ovation after challenging politicians from the pulpit. But suggestions that politicians such as Arlene Foster were ‘shamed’ into applauding Magill’s criticism have elicited a prickly response, and whilst members of the main parties talk a good game it still seems unlikely that there will be any lasting breakthrough.

As I explained recently, the Prime Minister’s decision to rule out ‘no deal’ so long as there is no Northern Ireland Assembly gives Sinn Fein (not to mention several smaller pro-EU parties) very little incentive to get Stormont back on its feet. Meanwhile the DUP will likely return to calling for direct rule if and when this latest spur to get negotiations underway dies down.

Karen Bradley, the Northern Irish Secretary, has announced that she will “hold talks” with local party leaders to see what progress can be made. But she is a figure of near-universal derision in the Province, and this resurgence in republican terrorist violence only highlights once again the extraordinary – and inappropriate – lengths to which May will go to keep a loyal minister in her Cabinet.

Meanwhile Maria Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, has accused the Government of failing to uphold the human rights of Ulsterwomen when it comes to abortion.