Lesley Riddoch: Nicola Sturgeon a post-Brexit voice of reason

Nicola Sturgeon offers a calm voice of reason after the turmoil of Brexit, says Lesley Riddoch
Demonstrators hold up placards as they protest outside the British Parliament in central London. Picture: AFP/GettyDemonstrators hold up placards as they protest outside the British Parliament in central London. Picture: AFP/Getty
Demonstrators hold up placards as they protest outside the British Parliament in central London. Picture: AFP/Getty

It’s all change since Thursday’s Brexit vote. A Sunday Post opinion poll suggests 65 per cent of Scots now back independence (after don’t knows are excluded).

Nicola Sturgeon says indyref2 is ‘back on the table’ but far from being greeted by an orchestrated gnashing of teeth among union-supporting papers, the Daily Record hailed her announcement as sensible in the new circumstances.

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The shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray has resigned as part of a collective flounce from Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet amid criticism from party colleagues. After all, as Labour’s only MP north of the Border, his departure simply emphasizes that Labour has no-one left to replace him with.

And yet the most amazing change of the last 72 turbulent hours has been the least commented upon. Scottish independence has been transformed from the scariest, most uncertain of all political destinations into one of the most potentially stable. After half a decade portrayed as the risk-taking radicals of Britain, Yes-supporting Scots have suddenly been supplanted by wild-eyed English pensioners.

These older, poorer, non-metropolitan voters have cheerfully backed massive disruption to their civic, political, economic and social lives without the equivalent of a White Paper or even a credible route map to Brexit. They have upended the trading and economic arrangements of two generations relying only on gut instinct and tabloid hysteria - even if some are already living to regret that choice.

The Scots, by contrast, have overwhelmingly backed stability and the European status quo.

So a strange truth is born. The English stand revealed as the wild-eyed revolutionaries of Britain - political teenagers prone to short-termism and extreme gestures -- whilst the Scots appear to be its more responsible, long-term- oriented custodians. While buck-passing has become the order of the day at Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon is on TV every day leading efforts to salvage the situation – for Scotland at least. Indeed, it’s possible that a Scots refusal to have European law extracted from the legislation that underpins the Scottish Parliament could yet provide a convenient obstacle for the English Leave leadership, most of which now clearly dreads the reality of Brexit – or at least a welcome excuse for delay.

Even Scotland’s voting tendencies are as solid and predictable as England’s are voluble and hard-to-fathom. Pollsters failed to foresee the north of England swing towards Brexit, but got the margin of Scotland’s Remain majority exactly right. Likewise, during the last pan-UK test of electoral opinion in 2015, undetected ‘shy Tories’ contributed to David Cameron’s surprise Westminster win, while Scottish voters delivered an SNP landslide exactly as forecast. Over and over Scots demonstrate a reasonably stable and predictable political outlook -- a settled will if you like -- on everything from beefier devolution for Holyrood to a society powered by renewable not nuclear energy. North of the Border, there seems to be consensus on most important subjects short of independence itself – and even that might be changing. South of it, political opinion rages unpredictably from extreme to extreme. In short, the Scots are developing the sort of stable democracy that might prove more attractive to investors than the City of London in the medium term – indeed Islamic investors are already in talks with the Church of Scotland to create an international centre for ethical banking and finance in Edinburgh. Is such a prospect pie in the sky – or suddenly quite feasible?

Today England is watching its political parties disintegrate, Northern Ireland is facing the erection of a disastrous and unwanted Schengen-style ‘hard’ border with the Republic and two million petitioners across the UK are desperately demanding a Brexit vote rerun.

Amid all this chaos, Nicola Sturgeon has become the calm, determined voice of reason – not just for Scots but for the Remain voting millions across the UK and worried European citizens beyond. One cartoon doing the rounds on social media shows a film-set with labelled costumes hanging on a dressing room rail. The Super-Hero outfit labels read; Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Fury and -- there amid all the dark manly leather -- sits a feminine red jacket with puffed sleeves. The label reads Nicola Sturgeon.

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Fighting to maintain links with Europe has put Scotland into the UK driving seat – even if network broadcasters fail to reflect that fact. And this moment of reverse political polarity will give an enormous boost to the cause of Scottish self-government.

The independence option may not be formally lifted ‘off the table’ for months or even years to come, but the case for independence is being constructed right now -- in every constructive gesture and statesperson-like comment by the Scottish First Minister; in every contrast between chaotic, back-stabbing, leaderless London and relatively calm, united and purposeful Scotland; in each Corbyn cabinet resignation and ducked opportunity to calm turmoil and own the post Brexit mess by Messrs Gove, Johnson or the missing George Osborne.

Before this weekend many found it laughable to think that little Scotland could ever be regarded as the successor state to the UK. It’s still difficult today -- but no longer impossible. The real politik of European membership has changed more quickly than the ‘summer’ weather. European leaders need no longer dance carefully around the Brexit-threatening, Tory-led UK. Endorsement of the EU as a club worth joining might matter more than the Spaniards fear that an easy route in for Scotland might boost the prospects of breakaway by Catalonia and the Basque country. Who knows?

Even if there is little chance of a special Scottish solution within Europe, there’s general agreement that Nicola Sturgeon is right to try and pursue it. That too is extraordinary. Scots are now being led, by general consent, along a very different path to rUK – and every part of the UK media has recognised and some have even endorsed that new direction.

Already that’s a very different backdrop for a possible Indyref2 to the environment of media scepticism and establishment hostility that preceded Indyref 1.

Of course things could still go wrong for Saint Nicola – the first whiff of smugness, grinding an axe for narrow party advantage or failing to involve opposition parties and the wider electorate would all take the shine of Project McRemain.

But so far, so astonishing.

What a difference half a week makes.