‘Can remain mean remain for the SNP’?

The First Minister’s speeches at SNP Conference last weekend majored on Brexit rhetoric but provided scant Brexit detail.

Her calls for Scotland’s referendum result to mean Scotland remains as part of the EU are, while democratically legitimate, likely to be ignored by the UK Government and quite likely by the EU as well.

Sturgeon is steadily increasing her demands for a distinct Scottish approach to Brexit, with the devolution of powers over immigration and border control the latest in a long line of increasingly undeliverable asks.

But demanding the undeliverable is all part of the game for Sturgeon, as she seeks to manufacture a constitutional crisis and prepare the ground for a potential second independence referendum.

This may not yield instant results for the SNP. But with the Conservative Party flirting with a hard Brexit, the political divisions between Scotland and the rest of the UK are becoming wider and wider.

The First Minister also intends to continue her European charm offensive, with the Scottish Government set to establish permanent representation in Berlin, as well as recruiting more staff to promote international trade.

However, this is merely a front for establishing diplomatic relations to lobby for a favourable deal for Scotland to enter the EU.

Sturgeon has indicated a willingness to work across political divides against a hard Brexit, and has maintained her desire to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the UK leaves.

This desire marks a subtle, but distinct, change from her previous position of keeping Scotland in the EU itself.

Yet Scottish membership of the single market, while the rest of the UK is outside, is a less than favourable option for many. It would ignore Scotland’s trading relationship with the rest of the UK in favour of its much smaller relationship with the EU.

Meanwhile, dissenting voices from within the party are starting to appear, with activists speaking on the Conference stage warning against pinning the future of independence to membership of the EU.

However, it is very unlikely that these cracks in party unity will start to spread to elected members.

The publication of a draft Independence Referendum Bill this week does mark another step forward on what the Scottish Government hopes will be the road to a second referendum, albeit a small one designed to keep party activists onside.

The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a legally binding referendum. A significant ‘Brexit bounce’ in support for independence which the Scottish Government had hoped for has not yet materialised.

Under the current circumstances it is difficult to see Sturgeon tying her entire political career to a panicked rush to a referendum.

The First Minister might yet find that patience proves to be the key that unlocks the door to another shot at independence.

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