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Deal or new deal, Sturgeon puts indyref on hold

Terry smiling headAmid the punchbag politics surrounding Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union Nicola Sturgeon has been cast as the one who’s not for turning. The so-called Irn-Lady with a plan.

No one else, no other party had presented a clear case for a post-Brexit Britain, she said when she published her blueprint for a new European settlement before Christmas.

It appeared she was prepared for a fight to the finish to ensure Scotland secured some form of ‘special arrangement’ which, from her point of view, would at the very least secure access to the EU’s single market.

Her tough stand on the issue drew admiration from her supporters and grudging respect from her opponents. She has even attracted envious glances from the English who, in spite of her wish to split the UK, believe she has shown the sort of leadership lacking at Westminster.

Yet the solid ground on which she has built an edifice to independence appears to be cracking. In a radio interview she admitted that she would be prepared to put an independence referendum on the back-burner if Prime Minister Theresa May was committed to securing a soft Brexit – access to the single market.

The First Minister said in her blueprint speech that she was prepared to reach a compromise on the Brexit issue, but by making this latest statement she has been the one to blink first and therefore has put herself on the back foot.

It is the first clear indication that an independence referendum is negotiable, giving Mrs May and the opposition parties at Holyrood an opportunity to deliver the final knockout blows.

Ms Sturgeon will argue that nothing has changed, except that she initially argued that a change of circumstances would be a reason to trigger a second referendum. Presenting the Brexit blueprint on 20 December she said: “A material constitutional change has occurred since 2014, and that is why the option of independence must remain on the table..”

It no longer seems that this is not enough. It now requires, not a change of circumstances, but the wrong solution to that change of circumstances.

In other words, a decision by Westminster to agree to a hard Brexit – or no access to the single market – has become the condition for putting Scotland’s independence back in the hands of voters.

This has only added to the muddle that Ms Sturgeon has been desperate to avoid. Yet is also suggests that behind the scenes she may have secured promises of new powers which, as outlined in her blueprint, would  “protect the rights that will no longer be underpinned by EU law”.

The paper called for “additional devolution…of repatriated powers that are not currently devolved but which would enable the Scottish parliament to protect key rights (such as employment law), and of a broader range of powers to protect Scotland’s interests and support a differentiated solution (such as power over immigration).

If Scotland did get these additional powers Ms Sturgeon might legitimately claim to have secured the best deal available as a result of the “change of circumstances”.

It might even be enough to appease those who may have to forfeit their dream of independence for the forseeable future.

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