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Why Boris creates a dilemma for the FM

Terry smiling headOne of the more fascinating things about elections and referendums is how they throw up some otherwise unlikely alliances.

Nicola Sturgeon’s determination that Scotland remains in the European Union puts her shoulder to shoulder with her otherwise political nemesis David Cameron.

Yet, her more Machiavellian advisers will have spotted that a previously unthinkable ally could turn out to be the man who is already dominating the Leave campaign: London mayor Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson has seized the front pages from the Prime Minister by declaring his support for those calling time on Britain’s EU membership and sparking a new phase of political manoeuvring.

Ms Sturgeon speaks passionately about Scotland’s place in Europe and has warned on a number of occasions that a vote by the rest of Britain to sever its tie with Brussels, while Scotland votes to retain it, would almost certainly trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence.

However much Ms Sturgeon declares her love for the EU, her heart is really set on the much bigger target of Scotland’s sovereignty. Mr Cameron has stated that while he remains in Downing Street there will be no second poll, and Ms Sturgeon has been forced to reconcile her ambitions for independence with the verdict reached in the 2014 poll.

Her get-out clause is to argue that “extraordinary circumstances” would be a good enough reason to call for a second vote and the First Minister will know that such circumstances may arise should the English, Welsh and Northern Irish vote in favour of leaving the EU.

But let’s be honest, Ms Sturgeon will not be launching an “I’m Backing Boris” campaign. Even though her instinct is to be politically selfish, it is unlikely she would want to sacrifice Scotland’s position in the EU by putting the prize of a second independence referendum above membership of the 28-nation club.

It has always puzzled the SNP’s opponents that it prefers to be in tow to unelected commissioners in Brussels rather than the elected representatives in Westminster, but the party maintains that EU membership is a pre-requisite of an independent nation.

This will forge another alliance – between the SNP and the pro-Europe business lobby, which includes some erstwhile opponents. The CBI, a long time critic of the SNP and independence, has softened its position on EU membership under its new director general Carolyn Fairbairn. Early into her tenure at the end of last year she acknowledged that some members want Britain to leave the EU. Even so, CBI members remain largely in favour of staying in the EU and will be encouraged by the SNP’s strategy.

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, is thought to be looking at alliances of his own that extend beyond the 23 June vote.

In his regular newspaper column he says voting to leave is the “only one way to get the change we need”.

This suggests to some observers that he would prefer a second referendum rather outright departure from the EU.

Others say his real aim is to position himself for the top job when Mr Cameron steps down. With six members of the Cabinet on his side, he has made a solid start.

 

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