By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that a timetable for IndyRef2 will be set out before the end of the Parliamentary session is welcome news indeed. Many would say it is about time. However, I’m not getting too excited about it just yet, and there are several reasons for this.

First of all, we have heard Nicola Sturgeon declare an intention to make the case for Scottish independence before, and nothing much has come of it. However, she really won’t need to do all that much since the combination of Brexit and Covid19 have exposed the Union for what it is. Let’s hope she drives those messages home.

There are other reasons for my reservations surrounding the announcement. Perhaps it is too cynical to suggest that she knew she had to say something to quieten the growing discontent among many Yes supporters about the lack of any real progress. The increase in support for independence suggested by the polls isn’t really down to anything the SNP have done other than appear competent when compared to the Tory UK Government, and it must be said that’s a pretty low bar.

Then there’s the timing of when this draft Bill is going to be produced. I get the impression it will be very late in the Parliamentary session, which would mean MSPs would not be able to vote on it. It would therefore become more akin to a manifesto promise than an actual Bill. Of course, the SNP do currently seem to be on track for a landslide victory, so then they would need to act on any promises made in the draft Bill, although there is always a concern that such drafts can be watered down before any vote is held.

And then there is the content of the draft Bill. When will it propose holding IndyRef2? Is it going to be kicked down the road for a few more years? If it is, what choice do voters have other than to accept this because, as things stand, the SNP is the only possible vehicle for obtaining independence. Nicola Sturgeon cannot afford to further alienate those Yessers who are clamouring for an escape from the UK before it is too late, but can she dress up a delay of several years sufficiently to appease them? Or will she go for it as soon as possible, perhaps risking the effects of a bombardment of Project Fear propaganda aimed at wavering voters? If she loses IndyRef2, her own political career could be over, so it’s perhaps no wonder that she’s been cautious.

And, finally, will the draft Bill confirm that the only way the SNP will countenance IndyRef2 is with the kind permission of our Westminster masters? Will it insist on a Section 30 Order even if, by then, the current court case has confirmed that such an Order is not required to hold a valid referendum? Because, whatever rumblings we hear, it seems highly unlikely that Boris Johnson would agree to sign a Section 30 Order. He knows England has too much to lose if Scotland becomes a normal, self-governing country. When he says NO, what response will the draft Bill outline?

So, the announcement is a welcome step, but there are still too many unknowns for us to get too worked up about it.