With speculation about a second independence referendum dominating the news agenda in Scotland for three days, two things are now very clear. The Scottish Government and the UK Government have no plans for a second independence referendum. One must therefor wonder what all the fuss is about. In my view Mr Salmond spoke out for two reasons.
The first relates to some awkward news that was breaking over the weekend. The leading news story on Sunday in Scotland related to a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners which outlined how the SNP Government have cut £1b from GP funding since coming to power. A secondary story related to the oil price – it has dropped by around 20% this month and now sits at $47.15. Cleary, these points question both the SNP’s competence as a government and undermine the “optimistic” economics which underpinned Mr Salmond’s independence proposals. It is therefore in Mr Salmond’s interest to move the news agenda on to his home turf – constitutional speculation.
The second reason the SNP needed this story is to placate the hard-core nationalists within their party. Despite the popularity of the SNP, most Scots still oppose the party’s core objective – independence. Within the context of this and Scotland’s huge deficit, a second referendum now would be suicidal for the SNP. However, anything less than a full commitment to a second referendum will be viewed as a betrayal by the noisier members of the SNP. Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond must therefore keep the idea of a second referendum alive without making any firm commitments.
Whilst speculation about a second referendum is interesting, I would much rather hear about why Scots should have to wait weeks to see a GP or how falling oil revenues would be good for an independent Scotland. Perhaps that would also quieten the noisier SNP members?