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Is Scotland heading for a Catalonian-style referendum?

Deprived by the snow at the weekend of announcing it to her party conference, Ruth Davidson set out her three key tests for indyref2 in press comments this morning.

These tests are worth paying attention to because you can be sure Ruth and her colleague David Mundell will be the first port of call for the Prime Minister should the issue ever land on her desk like it did this time last year.

The simple phrase, repeated over and over again, of ‘now is not the time’ was enough to keep Nicola Sturgeon at bay last March when she officially requested the right to hold a second referendum. In fact, it was enough to cost the SNP 21 seats at the General Election a few months later.

But Theresa May knows it won’t keep the SNP at bay for ever. All the signs are the SNP will come back again, maybe even by the end of the year. The window on a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament is closing and the uncertainty over Brexit is as good an opportunity to sow grievance as any likely to come their way.

The re-launched campaign for indyref2 begins in earnest next month with the Growth Commission, setting out new plans for an independent currency. It surely ends with another failed request to hold a legal referendum.

But will a precedent be set this week that will allow Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to hold a second referendum and by-pass Theresa May, David Mundell and Ruth Davidson?

The EU Continuity Bill – to be tabled and debated this week - is principally about the process of returning powers from Brussels to Holyrood after Brexit. The only problem is the Presiding Officer has ruled it is not within the legislative remit of the Scottish Parliament.

This won’t stop the Scottish Government, which can use its Patrick Harvie-aided majority to push it through Holyrood and take its chances in the courts.

Why is this relevant to the independence debate? Simple – if they can railroad through this bill, they could do the same with a future referendum bill. A legal precedent was set in 2014 where both the Scottish and UK Governments agreed a fair and democratic referendum. But having watched the chaos in Catalonia last year, could Nicola Sturgeon be set on another course of action?

As things stand, the Catalan nationalists failed. Catalonia is still part of Spain.

But the messy process frayed the ties of the Spanish nation, galvanised nationalist sentiment and ensured a strong vote for pro-independence parties in the resulting elections.

With little to shout about on her domestic record, could a constitutional wrangle similar to Catalonia be Nicola Sturgeon’s best chance of clinging on to power? Watch this space.


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