Sturgeon under pressure for Scottish independence ahead of SNP conference

Scotland’s ruling party gathers for its annual conference on Saturday, just ahead of a crucial court hearing over whether it will be able to hold an independence referendum quickly.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the pro-independence party Scottish National, wants the UK Supreme Court to rule on whether she has the power to hold a referendum next October without the consent of the UK government.

However, experts said that even if Sturgeon wins the court case, which begins Tuesday, she must step up her efforts to plead for independence in detail in order to win over the Scots.

Sturgeon is in Aberdeen for the SNP annual conference after watching as Liz Truss, Britain’s new prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, stumbled after the government’s ‘mini’ budget triggered severe turmoil in financial markets last month would have.

Scotland’s first minister is expected to use her keynote address at the conference to reinforce the case for Scottish independence after last week saying Truss’ economic plans would exacerbate the cost of living crisis.

“We have a British government that Scotland did not vote for. . . has destroyed the entire British economy and the cost of it is being borne by ordinary people across the country,” Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.

Missteps by Truss have eased concerns among SNP politicians that the departure of Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister – who was deeply unpopular with Scots – would deprive her party of an effective campaign tool to end the 315-year union between Scotland and England.

“I was a little worried about Truss,” said an SNP politician who is a Sturgeon critic. “Because of the shambles we saw, I don’t believe that at all anymore.”

Sturgeon is asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether she can hold an independence referendum because Johnson refused to authorize one.

Truss appears to be taking a similar line as Johnson: She said during the Conservative leadership contest that she would “not allow” a referendum.

But Sturgeon has argued that Brexit – which the SNP rejected – provides a reason for another vote on independence after Scots defeated leaving the UK by a margin of 55-45 per cent in a 2014 referendum.

She is asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Scottish Parliament has the legal power to pass legislation for a “consultative” referendum.

Academics and pollsters said Sturgeon needed to make a broader case for independence, rather than relying on issues like Brexit.

“It’s one thing to have a complaint, legitimate or not,” said James Mitchell, professor of public policy at the University of Edinburgh. “To take the next step, which is to vote for independence, you have to stand up for something with credibility.”

Supporters of Scottish independence demonstrate in Glasgow in May

Supporters of Scottish independence demonstrate in Glasgow in May © Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Scots are divided roughly down the middle on independence: a poll released last month by the National Center for Social Research, an independent research firm, found 52 per cent are in favor of leaving the UK.

The SNP needs to “move the dial whether there’s a referendum or not,” said Sir John Curtice, pollster and professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

“The SNP must now work to convince people that their choice is preferable to what unionists would make,” he added.

Sturgeon’s critics inside and outside the SNP said she needed to address Scots’ key independence issues, such as what currency their country would use or how Scotland would try to avoid a trade border with England.

And while Brexit has become a rallying point for independence after Scotland was taken out of the EU despite 62 per cent of Scots voting to remain, Sturgeon has not outlined a path back to EU membership.

She said on Friday her government would publish an updated economic plan for Scottish independence next week.

The SNP politician, who is a Sturgeon critic, expressed dismay that the “big problems” of independence did not figure prominently in the party’s ranks conference Program.

“We haven’t moved in eight years [to address the independence issues] as much as we should have done,” added the politician, saying the UK government would struggle to justify rejecting another referendum if public support for independence was maintained at around 60 percent.

An SNP official close to Sturgeon said the conference agenda was chosen by local party branches and predicted opinion polls would likely tip in favor of independence once a proper campaign got underway.

The official added that voters had already mandated a referendum, giving the SNP and the Scottish Greens, who are partners with the Scottish Government, a majority in Edinburgh’s parliament in the 2021 general election.

Opposition politicians in Holyrood Parliament have claimed that the fall of independence has been undermined by the SNP’s failure in government.

The SNP – in power since 2007 – has missed targets on key public services, including education and the NHS, and recently struggled with a flagship procurement for new ferries linking Scottish islands.

“The SNP has shown it is absolutely incapable of delivering,” said Edward Mountain, a Conservative MP in Scotland.

But criticism of the SNP government’s record has not resulted in a loss of support: a YouGov poll published by The Times this week showed it would win 45 per cent of the Scottish vote in a UK general election . Labor was 31 percent and the Conservatives 12 percent. Sturgeon under pressure for Scottish independence ahead of SNP conference

Adam Bradshaw

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