Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted for a motion supporting a second referendum on Scottish independence.
This comes as no surprise given the nationalist majority in the Scottish Parliament – 63 SNP MSPs and 6 Green MSPs.
But now the hard numbers of votes in parliament meet the politics of what happens next – which is the point where what happens next becomes unclear.
So what do we know?
The First Minster will write to the Prime Minister requesting agreement on the handover to Holyrood of the power — a Section 30 order – to hold a second independence referendum, within the SNP’s preferred timeline of autumn 2018 – spring 2019. This letter will likely be sent after Theresa May triggers Article 50 today.
The Prime Minister will respond saying “now is not the time” to hold such a referendum.
The PM’s argument is that before discussion of a second independence referendum begins the people of Scotland should be given the time to wait and see what the outcome of Brexit looks like for the whole of the UK.
The FM argues that now Article 50 has been triggered this results in change coming to Scotland, and that only by having another referendum on independence will this give Scots the fullest possible opportunity to decide what that change is.
There will not be a consultative referendum. The Edinburgh Agreement, the concordat between the UK and Scottish governments that laid out the legal framework for the referendum in September 2014, is described by the SNP as the “gold standard of referendums” and there is no appetite for a plebiscite that does not have the agreement of both governments and therefore full force of law.
Therefore for a referendum to happen it will require the agreement of both the Scottish and UK governments.
So will there be another referendum?
The “now is not the time” formulation that the PM sticks to rigidly has been tested in focus groups and works with a majority of the population. Pretty much everyone who voted No in 2014 is against another referendum and a fairly sizable slice of the electorate who voted Yes agree with the phrasing – which is not no, but not now.
The public polling since June 2016 still has the result in and around the 2014 result – 55% No vs 45% Yes. So the First Minster is still searching for the break-through many members of the SNP thought would come after Scotland voted to Remain.
Nicola Sturgeon may come back to the Scottish Parliament after the Easter recess to set out a strategy and a way ahead. Timing will be crucial. The SNP are determined to have the second independence referendum before the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 and the Conservatives are looking ever more determined to push it beyond those set of elections – for two reasons: 1. a nationalist majority may not be returned in those elections and 2. they believe that they will be the biggest beneficiaries of anti-referendum majority of the electorate.
So where are we now?
We are closer to a second referendum on Scottish independence but it still looks some way away, but what is for sure is Scottish constitutional trench-warfare has, in its own never-ending way, has ratcheted up a level.