Nicola Sturgeon could set independence cause back years by styling next General Election as indy vote, expert warns
NICOLA Sturgeon has made her “biggest gamble” and could set the independence cause back years by styling the next General Election as an indy vote, a top academic warned.
Professor James Mitchell – widely regarded as the foremost expert on the SNP – also said the First Minister would likely fail in her bid to top a 50 per cent vote share in a UK ballot.
The Edinburgh University public policy academic said Ms Sturgeon had “played into Tory hands” with the strategy, which he said could lead to her quitting and hammer the indy movement.
Prof Mitchell said: “I think this is the biggest gamble of Nicola Sturgeon’s career.
“This looks like her last throw of the dice. If it fails then I expect she would have to resign.”
His explosive remarks come after Ms Sturgeon last week announced controversial plans to hold a second independence referendum on October 19, 2023.
But she said it will only happen if the UK Supreme Court approves draft Holyrood legislation to hold a poll without Boris Johnson’s go-ahead.
If her 2023 poll plan is knocked down by judges, the Nats chief set out a dramatic back-up plan – vowing to use the next Westminster election, expected in 2024, as a “de facto referendum”.
That would mean the SNP having to get 50 per cent or more of the vote in Scotland – a feat they were just shy of in their historic landslide year or 2015.
Ms Sturgeon said a victory would pave the way to launch negotiations with Westminster to break up the UK.
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But speaking to The Scottish Sun about the plan, Prof Mitchell said: “If it fails, as is most likely, she will have to resign – leaving her party in a very difficult place.
“I would expect UK Government strategists are quietly satisfied.
“Understandable frustration has meant the SNP leader has played into Tory hands.”
The added: “If the SNP fails to win 50 per cent – even if it is close – then the issue will be off the immediate agenda for some time.
“But it will not go away – and, ultimately, reform of the UK will be necessary.”
However, Ms Sturgeon’s gambit has won cautious backing from pollster Mark Diffley, who said she had a “fair to middling chance” of reaching a majority of votes in a Westminster poll.
Mr Diffley, director of the Diffley Partnership polling firm, said the SNP had already come within a few thousand votes of a 50 per cent share in the 2015, when the Nats famously won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
He added that, because it would be a UK-wide election campaign, the SNP might succeed in promoting the “positives” of indy “without really having to defend what we know voters see as the negatives”.
However, Mr Diffley stressed: “If they get 50 per cent, that has absolutely no legal authority – on the face of it, it doesn’t change any of the legal arguments at all.
“But I do think it would have significant political weight.”
It came as the SNP launched a new drive “to encourage people in Scotland to register to vote ahead of the 2023 referendum”.
SNP president Michael Russell said: “The importance of registering to vote ahead of the independence referendum cannot be overstated – this is the opportunity for Scots to have their voices heard and decide their constitutional future.
“Over the coming weeks and months, the SNP will detail our arguments and make the case for Scotland to get rid of Westminster control and Tory governments we haven’t voted for since the 1950s.”
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