The Telegraph ran a story alleging that Nicola Sturgeon would prefer a Conservative government. It is based on the allegation that she made this confession to a French diplomat, unaware that it would get back to UK Government civil servants and/ or leaked to the press. Since then, Sturgeon has denied saying it and representatives of the French embassy have denied ever hearing it. Yet, the story rumbles on in the usual ‘she would say that, wouldn’t she?’ style.
The story is dodgy, and seems to have been knocked up in a hurry without following the usual journalistic rules (such as calling up the people involved to see if the story is true). Yet, even dodgier is the subsequent analysis of what is going on. I’m not talking so much about the Clouseau-esque discussion of who had the greatest motive to plant, and benefit from, the story. I’m talking more about the conclusion by many that, even if the story is completely false, it has merit because Sturgeon does indeed want a Conservative government.
The problem with the latter is that, for me, it is simplistic and out of date. People are talking as if the referendum didn’t just happen. The flawed logic is this: the SNP wants another referendum; if the Tories are elected, the SNP will either get one soon as part of a minority government deal (unlikely), or people in Scotland will get so pissed off at Tory government that they’ll want to vote Yes next time (and soon).
The problem with this argument is that many people were already pissed off with Tory government but 55% still voted No. It seems unlikely to me that enough people will change their beliefs so fundamentally in such a short space of time.
It also seems unlikely that the SNP leadership, which has shown such competence for such a long time, would seek a referendum so quickly unless it thought it would win this time (also unlikely). Another loss, so quickly, would hurt the SNP far more than the first, and would push the issue into the long grass, potentially for decades.
Instead, the SNP will want to maintain its electoral strength until a longer term opportunity arises. For me, that suggests at least a 10-year, not a 5-year, plan. In Scotland, it involves maintaining majority government in the Scottish Parliament and demonstrating the high level of governing competence that got it a majority in the first place. In the UK, it involves ‘standing up for Scotland’, and showing the immediate pay-off from electing SNP MPs. For me, that payoff is just as likely (if not more) to come from being Labour’s conscience, and securing high profile concessions, than spending another 5 years declaring that the Tories are ruining the country.