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Nicola Sturgeon's case for independence is more about wishful thinking than economic reality

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Greenock earlier this year | Credit: Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon's case for independence is more about wishful thinking than economic reality

When the prime minister’s tenure in office was being compared to the life cycle of a lettuce and the latter won; when her Leader of the House was having to deny that Liz Truss was stuck under a table rather than face MPs in parliament, then the end was surely nigh.

When everyone was tuning in to watch PMQs with the lurid hope that the PM’s batteries would fail, and she’d break down and explain to the nation why she was still in No 10.

When the question of whether she was mentally all there was coupled with a sneaky suspicion about the motives behind Thérèse Coffey’s sudden conversion to dealing prescription drugs.

When her newly appointed chancellor stood in front of her and, humiliatingly, tore up all her homework in front of the opposition.

When she was asked whether she would lead her party into the next general election and gave a demonic laugh.

When an inhumane home secretary, who blasted the opposition as “tofu-eating wokerati” and crudely boasted about dreaming of waving off a planeload of asylum seekers to Rwanda, quit her Cabinet on an email technicality rather than because of her own consistent callousness.

When she lost control of her whips and effectively voted for no confidence in herself or her government.

When the chair of the 1922 Committee couldn’t make a visit to the gents without increasing speculation about the prime minister’s imminent departure.

When all you could say is “sorry” when hundreds of thousands of mortgage-owning Britons faced financial ruin because of your actions.

And when the answer to the question of who could take over is Boris Johnson, then yes, it’s easy for the rest of us to look on aghast at events at Westminster while simultaneously searching for an easy escape route.

By the end of this month, when Tory MPs elect a new leader of their party and de facto, our next prime minister, we will be onto our third PM this year. Brexit remains at the heart of the harm inflicted by the Tories, both on themselves and on the country.

The damage that has been wreaked on our standing in the world and to our economy at home is clear. But being appalled at the debasement of politics by this pantomime of a government is not a uniquely Scottish affair.

Scots are not alone in wanting rid of the Conservatives. People all over the country are suffering because of the actions of Johnson, Truss, and their sycophantic cronies. And if the polls are to be believed, we are looking at a landslide majority for Labour at the next general election, and with it, the potential for a new era in the constitutional debate and, rationally, a much faster way of ridding ourselves of the Tories than seeking independence.

And while it may seem indelicate, with all the economic turmoil inflicted on the United Kingdom by a now dysfunctional and leaderless Tory Party and its ideological desire to “take back control” just so it could, ironically, give us a masterclass in being out of control, to then turn our attention to the credibility of Scotland’s latest economic case for independence, but we surely must, because no one wants to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

The future, as the first minister so cogently spells out, is inherently uncertain. And it is true, independence could be the chance for a radical new start. A new economic approach. A fairer, more just, and equitable society.

But equally, an election also offers the opportunity to rid ourselves of a government that we did not vote for – a constant battle cry of the SNP – and to put in place a more left-leaning, compassionate one, whose leader has already started the work of trying to find a solution to the inequity of power between the nations of this dis-United Kingdom. And let’s not forget that the last time Labour was in power, it delivered on devolution.

So why, when the Tories and the tanking of the economy are the two ballasts of the current independence rally call, was the SNP not more prepared for capitalising on the misery and economic chaos that Liz Truss only achieved in heightening in her few short weeks in power?

The economic mayhem of the last few weeks has acted as a convenient shield for Sturgeon’s much-awaited economic prospectus for independence. But the shenanigans at Westminster, dire as they are, can’t hide the fact that the 100 pages of the Scottish Government’s ‘A Stronger Economy with Independence’ paper have not moved the SNP’s position on one whit from where it was in 2014. And it was then, on the economic arguments, that ‘yes’ was lost.

Longtime and respected independence supporter and more recently critic of the SNP, Robin McAlpine, didn’t hold back when he described the latest paper in the SNP’s independence series published last week, with just one year to go until their promised referendum, as “utter pish”. 

Strip away the aspirational words and comforting fiscal phrases, and you are left with the bare bones of what was said in 2014 and again in 2018 in Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission report which, frankly, offered a more realistic assessment of the period of pain that could be experienced on that journey to independence.

On currency, borders and re-entry to the EU, the pillars on which the government’s arguments for independence rest, there is a lot of wishful thinking but little in the way of detail. And even in relation to the academic reports referenced by the influential Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Institute of Government, by way of evidence of what could be achieved, credulity is truly stretched in the way some of their findings have been presented.

The 100 pages of the Scottish Government’s ‘A Stronger Economy with Independence’ paper have not moved the SNP’s position on one whit from where it was in 2014

The author of one told me that had he been consulted on how his words had been interpreted, he would have asked for it to be changed.

Independence will always be about hope, heart, and negotiation but there are 92 references to “could” in this latest prospectus and frankly, that vagueness encapsulates the flimsiness of the work and has dangerous echoes of Brexit. 

It is simply not good enough to point to a political basket case at Westminster and argue that it is making the case for independence for you. That is a job for Sturgeon to do. And if she can’t turn the tide now, in such hellish days when the political ammunition is there for her clear disposal, then when? 

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