It’s not easy to simultaneously lower expectations while keeping hopes high. I’m not at all sure Nicola Sturgeon has carried it off. There is no doubt that this was what she was attempting in the Scotland Tonight interview reported by The National. She now says she intends “to do everything that’s within my power to enable that referendum to happen before the end of 2023”. A significant downgrading of her earlier not-quite-a-promise, the language is carefully chosen to prepare us for yet another disappointment while planting the seed of an idea that failure to deliver a referendum is down to circumstances outwith her control.
This damping-down of expectations needs to be offset by something that might inspire hope. Or at least a wee jolt of enthusiasm. The best she could manage in this regard was a reminder to get excited about “the opportunities that come with Scotland being independent”. Focus on the dream of what it might be like being an independent nation once more and disregard the reality that becoming independent remains a distant and receding prospect.
What I find interesting about this is that just when I’d almost convinced myself she would deliver some kind of referendum – albeit a totally unsatisfactory affair – Sturgeon seems now to be thinking in terms of no referendum whatever. The statements she is making in this interview look very much like words she can refer back to when breaking the news that a new referendum has been postponed yet again. She shall, of course, be hugely disappointed. But it will not be her fault. She will be powerless to do what she told us she was determined to do.
Ever get the feeling you’re being played?
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