'Nicola Sturgeon gets on with her day job: keeping Scotland in the EU'

Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised for launching her campaign on the back of Brexit

Sturgeon has launched a campaign for a second Scottish independence referencum

Friday, September 2, 2016

Influential blogger James Kelly tells talkRADIO why people telling Sturgeon to 'do her day job' is unfair and disingenuous 

"Do your day job" is the sneer of the London parties as Nicola Sturgeon launches her long-awaited drive for independence. That message roughly translates as "think small", and "stay in the little box London made for you", and above all else "keep thoroughly distracted while we get on with dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will". 

In many ways, the unionist strategy resembles that of Tony Blair in the autumn prior to the Iraq invasion, when he anaesthetised the Labour rank-and-file with an insistence that it was way too early to worry about military action, because he was a million miles away from making any decisions. Somehow, in the blink of an eye he was then telling them that Britain was already totally committed to war and that it was far, far too late to pull back from the brink.

Well, as it happens, a big part of the "day job" of any leader of the Scottish National Party is to win support for independence.  An equally big part of the "day job" of a First Minister elected on a manifesto commitment that Brexit would lead to the question of independence being revisited is to ensure that the public are actually given the choice they voted for. Very few people who voted SNP in May were hoping that Nicola Sturgeon would fall asleep on the job and fail to take any action to protect Scotland's place within the EU until it was too late.

With or without Brexit, the new campaign for independence would have been launched anyway - the initial announcement was made in the spring, and the electorate chose an SNP government with their eyes wide open. If there had been a Remain victory in June, the purpose of the campaign would have been to keep the fires warm in preparation for a referendum in the medium-term, probably after the next Scottish Parliament election. The only difference now is that what we're looking at is decidedly not a drill. 

Nicola Sturgeon has left herself a little wiggle-room just in case circumstances change, but as of this moment she clearly anticipates that the new campaign will culminate in a referendum within the next two or three years.

Some commentators, including the leading psephologist John Curtice, have tried to shape a narrative which inisists that the trigger can only finally be pulled if and when Sturgeon succeeds in substantially increasing support for independence in the polls. Curtice even suggested at one point that sustained 60% support over a period of two years would be required. 

That was clearly a ludicrous and unattainable target, and to be fair in the aftermath of the Brexit vote Curtice has pulled back, stating instead that the kind of modest Yes leads recorded in Panelbase and Survation polls in the early summer might be enough to offer a realistic chance of success. As ever, there's a sting attached to that observation - what he's driving at is that the more recent and less favourable polls from YouGov mean that she may have to wait, and wait, and wait.

My own guess is that Sturgeon has very different ideas from Curtice on what she can and can't do. She's now the veteran of two referendum campaigns which detonated the traditional perception that there is bound to be a swing towards the status quo as the vote approaches. In the run-up to the independence referendum, YouGov had the Yes side as low as 33% at one point, even with Don't Knows excluded. The eventual Yes vote on the day was 45%.

Both referendums also called into question just how accurate the polling for constitutional referendums can ever be, even as snapshots. The final batch of polls in June of this year, mostly putting the Remain camp ahead, suggest that Leave may have been significantly underestimated all along.  A few months earlier, YouGov had reported a mini-surge for Remain that other firms failed to corroborate, and thus may well never have happened. 

We already know that not all of the independence polls since 2014 can possibly be correct, because Ipsos-Mori telephone polls have shown Yes support way ahead of the September 2014 figure, even while YouGov and other online firms were suggesting that little progress has been made.  Who is to say that an Ipsos-Mori poll conducted tomorrow wouldn’t continue to show a clear Yes lead?  And if it did, who is to say whether YouGov or Ipsos-Mori is closer to the mark?

In truth, Sturgeon is highly likely to enter the second independence referendum without even knowing for sure whether she has a lead to defend, or a deficit to overturn. That won’t deter her, because she’s learned that referendums are won and lost in the heat of battle, not on graphs during a phoney war.  No wonder she’s wasted little time in getting her sleeves rolled up, and setting about the task in hand.

James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.

You can check out the blog here or follow James on Twitter.