Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 31st March 2017

It has been an extraordinary week.

On Tuesday Holyrood voted for a second independence referendum in three years. The Greens were Nicola Sturgeon’s little helpers. Their votes were the ones that gave the SNP a majority in parliament.

I respect Sturgeon’s right to make the case for the change that she and her party believe in more than anything else. But I recall Robin Harper when he led the Greens, resplendent in a wonderful Doctor Who scarf. He was no supporter of independence. So their votes were more difficult to understand. But perhaps not. John Finnie, who is an able MSP, is a Green. But he was first elected an SNP MSP. So I would not criticise his vote for another referendum.

Every part of Scotland now faces years of campaigning on independence. But the silent majority in most parts of our country believe we settled this issue in 2014. The argument that Sturgeon now deploys is Brexit. She has, since the UK voted to leave the EU on 23rd June last year. Scotland voted to stay in the EU. As did Northern Ireland and London. And many different areas of England. But overall the UK voted out. So on Wednesday Theresa May wrote a letter to Europe saying we are off.

At least two years will now be spent negotiating that departure. Trade matters for every part of the economy. So when trade talks begin and more importantly, conclude, is very important to businesses from Unst to Land’s End.

May has told Sturgeon that there will be no negotiations on the timing of a Scottish independence referendum until Brexit has happened. Most people agree with that. And so does Sturgeon. Not in public of course. But the SNP know that to be seen causing chaos on top of the inevitable chaos that will be the EU/UK negotiations would not be supported by the majority of the public.

Will there be a second vote on Scottish independence? Yes. When will it be? Who knows. I suspect it will be later rather than sooner. The conventional political wisdom is that the SNP only wanted to call it after Jeremy Corbyn loses the next UK general election and loses it badly. If I was Nicola, that would be my approach. The UK as a whole has decided already that Corbyn is not prime minister material.

So with all this going on my colleagues had an opportunity on Wednesday to choose the subject for a parliamentary debate. Not unsurprisingly, there was not much media attention. They were rather more interested in the symbolism of the departure letter being handed to the President of the EU.

But no matter. I began a debate on education. MSPs from across the parties spoke. We gave a good airing to the role that the government’s education quangos play in policy and school inspections. The challenge in the years ahead will be to make sure the Scottish Parliament and your government concentrates on the day job. It will be some challenge.

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