It was when she tried to dragoon Abraham Lincoln into an argument for secession that Nicola Sturgeon lost the room. ‘With public sentiment nothing can fail,’ she quoted. ‘Without it, nothing can succeed.’
The cackling that greeted her audacious attempt to appropriate history’s most famous unionist summed up the reaction to her ministerial statement. If you didn’t laugh, you could have almost cried for her.
A funny thing happens around this time of year. Four days before her 2017 Spring conference, Sturgeon pledged to hold Indyref 2 within two years. Two weeks before her 2018 Autumn conference, she unveiled her Growth Commission’s blueprint for Indyref 2.
Yesterday, two days before SNP Spring conference, she announced a framework bill for Indyref 2. You don’t need to be Columbo to spot the pattern here.
The First Minister is in a right old bind thanks to Brexit, trapped between an SNP membership champing at the bit for another referendum and a broader electorate that would sooner invite Marie Kondo round to inspect their front room than go through all that again.
Her Holyrood statement was designed to walk a fine line between these two demographics but she did it with all the grace of a giraffe bounding onto a trapeze wire. She had to remind us that Brexit was going as well as a fire in a matchbook factory and sell us on her proposal to relocate said fire to a nearby oil refinery.
So, we heard that Brexit was ‘a toxic combination of dishonesty and incompetence’, though quite what the 2014 White Paper on independence had to do with it wasn’t clear.
Brexit posed ‘an almost existential threat to our future prosperity’, which wasn’t on because, after all, that is technically the SNP’s job.
Worse, it would ‘affect the ability of Scottish governments now and well into the future to do the day job’. There were sputters from the Tory benches, either in disbelief at the sheer heroism of this complaint or in mourning for all the selfies that might go untaken.
With no little fanfare, the First Minister came to her big announcement: ‘We will shortly introduce legislation to set the rules for any referendum that is, now or in the future, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.’
A hush among opposition members grumbled into bemusement: Was that it? It was as if Eisenhower had ginned everyone up for the Normandy landings then turned up with three dinghies, a compass and a leaky water pistol.
She proclaimed there would be a second referendum within the next two years. Anyone on the rows behind her experiencing deja vu had their suspicions confirmed when she said she wouldn’t be seeking a Section 30 order anytime soon. There are Bonnie Tyler music videos with less smoke and mirrors.
The current devolution set-up was ‘utterly inadequate’, Sturgeon averred, before announcing Mike Russell would be in charge of fixing the problem. At least she’s kept her sense of humour.
Russell will oversee the creation of a citizens’ assembly to ask the voters which powers they think Holyrood should have. It’s not enough that we have one Scottish Parliament, now we have to have a wee parliament to tell the big parliament how to do its job.
This is proof positive that Indyref 2 has been kicked into the long grass. No one trying to win over voters would introduce them to Mike Russell.
Sturgeon spoke on the anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish nationalists declared independence and demanded the British leave their country.
The First Minister took the somewhat less revolutionary route of inviting some punters round for a coffee and a chat about devolving the regulation of lighthouses.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard had a proper go, accusing the SNP leader of ‘using this parliamentary platform as a party platform’. Sturgeon riposted: ‘If I hadn’t made a statement about the implications of Brexit, the opposition would’ve demanded I did so’.
She might be overestimating the general enthusiasm for hearing her speak.