The SNP Party Conference looms and with it, the expectation of the thousands of SNP members and would-be MSPs and a gaggle of lobbyists and the media – all wanting their slice of the SNP leaders’ time. But one issue that will be posed by the media in particular, which has not really been posed much before; what is the SNP’s stance on the EU referendum and how will Sturgeon react to various hypothetical results?
For the SNP, Brexit is both a golden opportunity and an unwanted distraction. It represents a great opportunity for the SNP to gain far more media time on UK national news channels, which have a sudden wider interest in referenda and what the result of a Brexit poll might mean for the UK. On the other hand, the referendum is a huge distraction for the SNP to get its core messages out and deliver the thumping victory the polls are predicting.
The end of certainty
The Scottish Parliament election in many ways is set to deliver certainty – continued dominance by the SNP and their slightly left of centre politics. The EU referendum, however, represents both uncertainty and a potential opportunity. Should the UK vote no, the SNP leadership has made it clear it could trigger another Scottish independence referendum.
An obvious trap
However, it’s not as clear cut as all that. The SNP are wary of being drawn into the trap of arguing for the benefits of unity with other nations, while advocating independence and separation for Scotland. Sturgeon choses her words carefully so as not to reflect the same language used by the No campaign in 2014. And she is drawing on the experiences of the Scottish referendum to argue for a positive campaign around the EU referendum.
However, the SNP are almost guaranteed winners out of the EU referendum. The Party can portray itself in a positive manner in the UK media, knowing that a majority of Scots still support EU membership. With that safety net, Sturgeon can do little wrong and she’ll take the May poll as a vindication of the SNP stance on the issue. If there is subsequently a Brexit result and we find ourselves leaving the EU, the SNP can use this as a trigger for a second referendum. Certainly not a dead cert, but the stars would be more aligned in the SNP’s favour – a decent economy, Conservatives in power in London and a clear issue of divide between Scotland and England.
What of the Opposition?
The Conservatives are being portrayed as badly divided, just at the point they are tipped to become the lead opposition – and may struggle to recover their composure post 23rd June. Labour continues to flim-flam and the Lib Dems remain a muted force. The EU referendum, however, provides a welcome distraction to the electorate too, who might otherwise start to believe opposition stories of large cutbacks in local government services and problems in the NHS and education services.
Sturgeon may well be having her cake and eating it in the EU referendum campaign, but she’ll be keen to keep her nerve and not appear too opportunistic.