Political pots and kettles

Written by Campbell Gunn, 3×1 Strategic Adviser and former Senior Special Adviser to First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond

THE Scottish political conference season is now in full swing. Last week Scottish Labour gathered in Perth, and this weekend the Scottish Conservatives are in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Theresa May, like many speakers at the Labour gathering the previous week, focused her attacks on the SNP. In particular, she accused Nicola Sturgeon of being obsessed with constitutional issues, to the detriment of running the country.

Everything the SNP Government did, she claimed, was being sidelined by the party’s focus on a second independence referendum.

The result, she alleged, was that bread and butter issues like education, the NHS and the economy were being damaged by neglect.

This is like the pot calling the kettle black. The PM appeared to ignore the fact that her own government is tied up with its own constitutional problem in Brexit, which is dominating the entire body politic at Westminster.

And it is a problem of her party’s own making. If they hadn’t called the EU referendum, in an attempt to counter the rise of UKIP and to appease their own party’s right wing, then she wouldn’t be in the current constitutional crisis.

And, of course, she wouldn’t be facing the knock-on effect of the prospect of Indyref2. With no vote on Britain’s membership of the EU, there would have been no excuse for Nicola Sturgeon to even threaten another independence referendum.

However, we are where we are, and the focus will now switch to Aberdeen in two weeks’ time, and what Nicola Sturgeon will tell her troops about her own plans.

Will she announce Indyref2? There will certainly be a clamour from the floor for her to do just that.

But Nicola is a cautious politician. The highly charged atmosphere of an SNP conference may not be the ideal place for such a momentous declaration.

More likely, it will be announced – and it will definitely be announced at some point – in the more sober surroundings of Bute House at a specially convened press conference.

When that will be depends to a large extent on Theresa May, and the timing of the triggering of Article 50, which will start the EU exit negotiations.

She is said to be considering acting within the next two weeks, meaning it could clash with the SNP conference. That would put added pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to announce her own plans.

Remember, that even if Ms Sturgeon does announce Indyref2, it won’t actually happen for at least nine months, and more likely over a year. When it is finally announced, Theresa May should reflect on the fact that it’s only happening thanks to her party’s own obsession – with Europe.