What is not said can be as significant as what is said. I notice that Nicola Sturgeon talks rather less about Section 30 these days. We still occasionally hear references to a referendum being “legal and constitutional”, but without any explanation or context. To say that a referendum must be “legal and constitutional” is merely stating the obvious. What matter is how such terms are defined. What matters is the criteria by which the legality and constitutionality of the referendum are assessed. And Nicola Sturgeon is a lot less vocal about that than she once was.
Previously, Nicola Sturgeon has been very explicit, not to say emphatic, about what she meant by “legal and constitutional”. She has repeatedly and consistently expressed the view that “legal and constitutional” means ‘with the consent, involvement and (promised) cooperation of the British government’. She has not only refused to talk about alternatives to the Section 30 process, she has done her utmost to close down all discussion of interpretations of “legal and constitutional” other than her own. Within the SNP, this effort has been all but 100% effective due to the dismantling of all internal democratic structures and procedures. In the wider community, such heresies have been actively discouraged by the #WheeshtForIndy vigilantes who stand ready to pounce on any transgressor and bludgeon them into silence with cudgels of vitriol.
What has changed? Why is Nicola Sturgeon less open than she once was about her views on how we must proceed to a new referendum? Is it because her views have changed? If so, why does she not simply tell us how she now sees things? There is no disgrace in revising one’s opinion in the light of fresh developments and altered circumstances. She may be reluctant to admit that she got it wrong. She may be loath to acknowledge that others got it right. But surely she can’t put her pride before Scotland’s cause.
Or could it be that she stubbornly clings to the view that a new referendum can only be “legal and Constitutional” if it is consented to by The British Prime Minister but now realises that this perspective is not as widely accepted as it used to be? Could it be that she is as committed as ever she was to bartering to sovereignty of Scotland’s people for empty promises of cooperation from a British government she herself says cannot be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests, but is now reluctant to say as much in public because she realises how unpopular this approach has become?
Other than the absence of references to the Section 30 process in her statements and speeches, the indications are that the SNP’s ‘official’ position continues to be that the party is seeking a mandate to first of all petition Boris Johnson for the permission he has repeatedly and unequivocally said he will not grant under any circumstances. The purpose of this being, apparently, to prove to the international community that Boris is not lying when he says this and that the Scottish Government acknowledges Scotland’s subordinate status in the Union.
The ‘plan’ then is to do a screeching U-turn in front of that same international community. When Boris does as he has assured the entire world he will do and sends Sturgeon homeward tae think again he will immediately revert to being a liar and all the other things he was held to be before it was expedient for Nicola Sturgeon to pretend that he isn’t any of those things. And Scotland will instantly switch from being a subordinate annexed territory of England-as-Britain to being a nation with all the attributes and rights that implies.
We have no reason to suppose that this is no longer Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred approach to the constitutional issue. But we are entitled to wonder why she has grown so shy about banging the drum in favour of the British state’s ‘gold standard’ in democracy-denial.