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Might Nicola Sturgeon’s sinking approval ratings explain her appetite for a referendum?

10 March 2017

5:09 PM

10 March 2017

5:09 PM

In an interview with the BBC last night, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the autumn of next year would be a ‘common sense’ time to hold another referendum on Scottish independence. Which would, of course, mean voting without knowing what the terms of the Brexit would be. (Or, perhaps, whether it will really happen.) Why the haste? This is another topic that came up on Question Time last night. I suggested that Sturgeon’s sense of urgency might be explained by opinion polls showing her ‘tanking’ approval rating. The 2021 Holyrood election will probably end the majority for independence, given that the SNP will have been in power for 14 years by then and Scots will already be ‘scunnered’ with them (as Ms Sturgeon might put it).

Support for independence is about 45 per cent (indeed, a poll yesterday said 50 per cent). But the below graph, for the record, is what I was referring to: Nicola Sturgeon’s tanking approval rating, as measured by YouGov.

It seems she is being eclipsed in popularity by Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories. For many nationalists, this will not quite compute. Pete Wishart, an SNP MP, once declared that“we loathe the Tories in Scotland” – well, not so much nowadays, it seems.

My hunch is that the SNP’s record in government is starting to catch up with it, that Ms Sturgeon will – like her predecessor – end up loved by nationalists by not so much by unionists and that the SNP senses that the clock is ticking. That they may never again get a majority (which is rather hard under Holyrood PR system) and that the risk of a failed referendum in 2018 is less than the risk of no referendum ever again.

Of course under the constitution it’s up to Theresa May, the Prime Minister, to decide when – and whether – to allow another Scottish referendum. With a poll last weekend suggesting just a quarter of Scots want one, the PM may well decide that there’s no appetite in Scotland more broadly for another referendum. This would be an interesting stand-off. But if the SNP seems in a hurry, I suspect Ms Sturgeon’s wobbling ratings suggest why.

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