Thursday, 11 June 2015

2019 could be in Sturgeon's political horoscope

DAVID Mundell’s Commons announcement about the timing of future Scottish elections sent me star-gazing.
Holyrood’s fixed four-year electoral cycle was knocked out of kilter by Westminster’s fixed-term Parliament Act.
It wasn’t possible for Holyrood and Westminster elections to both take place in 2015, so Alex Salmond chose to go long and give the SNP an extra year in government until 2016.
The next Holyrood four-year term will also clash with Westminster’s 2020 election. So, as Mundell announced, the Scottish government are being given special powers to choose the duration of the 2016 parliament.
You might assume Nicola Sturgeon would choose long, another five-year term appears guaranteed on this week’s polling.
But why wouldn’t she be tempted to go short and have a three-year term? Look at the political landscape ahead.
The mood in Scotland is not for a second referendum any time soon. By necessity a 2016 SNP manifesto will have the loosest commitment to staging another vote.
The faithful won’t like it but patience, bravehearts, it is only for three years.
In that time, Trident renewal will raise nationalist sentiment but would that amount to the “material change” (that’s 60 per cent support for independence) Sturgeon needs to trigger a second referendum?
Meanwhile, an EU referendum, next year or 2017, can result in a Yes to Europe vote but leave the Tories divided, spasming in their own version of “neverendum” pain.
Following the Scottish pattern, a reluctant economic endorsement of the EU could spur a patriotic English blowback for UKIP, leaving Labour struggling for traction.
The Tories, renewed in office under fresh leadership, with constituency boundaries changed to their advantage, look like a third term prospect in that scenario.
So, going into a May 2019 Holyrood campaign on a referendum platform to free Scotland from “permanent” Tory rule and the hateful Westminster version of identity politics, English votes for English laws, looks alluring.
Protests of gerrymandering can be dismissed by offering a 2019 plus 2023 election package to restore the Scottish election cycle ahead of the UK ones. Such a timetable, to borrow a phrase, puts Scotland first.
For Sturgeon, who knows she has only one more shot, this calendar is a political horoscope for that mid-Atlantic hiatus in a long flight when thoughts drift to possible futures.
But it is plausible, and she does believe independence is written in the stars.

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