In her speech in Stirling yesterday, opening a “new conversation” on independence, Nicola Sturgeon said that her SNP will not duck tough issues.
Scotland’s first minister said that the party’s “biggest-ever political listening exercise” would address the country’s £15 billion deficit.
If the SNP does stare unflinchingly at the way in which the country spends far more than it raises, then Scottish nationalism will have done something its Irish counterpart has not.
There has been recent agitating here about a border poll, and Enda Kenny gave succour to it, but there has never been a serious examination of the sums involved in losing the vast subsidy to this Province from the generous English taxpayer.
Northern Ireland’s budget deficit is far worse than Scotland’s, which is itself much worse than that of the whole UK (and even that is stubbornly high, despite supposed ‘austerity’). An independent NI would on its first day be in financial crisis, and a united Ireland would bankrupt Dublin.
But the key word to emphasise above is if – it will be admirable ‘if’ the SNP talks honestly about Scotland’s deficit in its conversation. It did not do so in the 2014 independence referendum and persuaded a lot of voters that Scotland is inherently rich. As oil plummets, the claim is increasingly exposed.
Unionists across the UK were understandably concerned about the threat to the Union from Brexit, but there is no early sign of a surge in support for nationalism in either Scotland or Northern Ireland since June. The Times now reports that support for a Scottish split has only edged up since 2014.
A person to watch in this debate is Ruth Davidson, who impressed socially liberal people in Belfast on her recent visit in support of gay Pride. Yesterday she pointedly described herself as “Scottish Conservative and Unionist” leader as she dismissed an “utterly unjustified” second referendum.
Ms Sturgeon knows she is playing with fire, which is why she is not demanding such a vote now. If the SNP get a poll and lose, a Scottish split might not happen for a century – if ever.