Editorial: Nicola Sturgeon, whatever her flaws, can see that Sottish independence needs a new leader - and unionism could learn from such insight

News Letter editorial on Thursday February 16 2023:
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​It is approaching nine years since Scotland voted on whether or not to break from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The 2014 plebiscite ended up in an uncomfortably narrow victory for the ‘no’ camp of 55% to 45%.

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While some latter opinion polls during the independence campaign had in fact shown a near or fractional vote to separate, and so the end result was a relief to unionists, the contest had begun two years previously with almost 70% support for the status quo.

Alex Salmond, the then Scottish National Party leader, was central to the success of the nationalist movement. Nicola Sturgeon, who succeeded him, was a similarly successful leader.

Both were abrasive in ways that made them deeply unpopular with unionists, but which seemed not to stop their SNP from winning elections. It was not enough to secure their cherished goal of a split from the rest of the nation.

And yet Ms Sturgeon showed some of the insight yesterday which Mr Salmond lacks when she recognised that someone else needed to take on the separatist campaign.

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Unionists can only hope that an SNP leader who is competent and charismatic but with a softer image does not appear.

The party cannot expect to ride to independence on the back of its reputation in government. It has ruled as a traditional tax and spend and grievance leftist party, and is not seen to have run well key public spheres such as education.

Support for independence has not moved much since the last referendum. The 2016 Brexit vote, which was unpopular in Scotland, has not led to a surge in demand for’ indyref2’. But much as the separatists need to raise their game, so do unionists. Since Ruth Davidson was in the Scottish parliament, there has been no obvious figurehead for that key constituency.