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Editorial: Scottish independence bid faces challenges

The Scottish government’s plan to hold a referendum on independence comes as no surprise.

Frustrated by Brexit, angered by the style and content of Boris Johnson’s government and aggrieved at having to wait for London’s permission to consider a referendum, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has decided to pursue Scottish self-determination in her own way.

It is an understandable approach, but it is littered with legal, political and electoral challenges.

Her first step will be to ask Britain’s Supreme Court if organising a referendum without London’s agreement is legal. While this is hardly in the rebellious tradition of historical Scottish nationalism, success would give her a significant head start in the referendum campaign.

However, last year the same court ruled that the SNP had acted illegally in attempting to enshrine treaties on child rights and local government into Scottish law.

If she loses the case, her Scottish National Party will contest the next Westminster general election solely on the independence issue. This is a risky strategy. They may not achieve more than 50 per cent of the vote, particularly since it is difficult to determine where the cost of living crisis will be by then.

Even if her party does achieve victory, it is not clear how a parliamentary majority will be translated into constitutional change.

Her alternative, of course, is to do nothing and wait on London’s political benevolence. She has reasonably argued that this is no longer an option. If a significant majority of Tories want to break from Boris Johnson, it is hardly surprising that Scottish nationalists might wish to do the same.

The first minister also recognises that this may be her last chance to achieve Scottish independence. If Johnson loses the next election to a Labour/Lib Dem coalition, the new government may well take the UK back into the EU, provided Scotland abandons its referendum campaign.

Timing is everything in politics and this might be the best time for Scottish nationalists to force the independence issue.

Although their campaign is centred in Scotland, it is effectively about the survival or demise of the United Kingdom. It will therefore be watched with interest across the world and no more closely than here.

It will be surprising if its course and its outcome do not cause waves on this side of the North Channel.

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