Gather at the casino table for a game of constitutional trumps

Scottish political commentators are fond of saying that Nicola Sturgeon is not a gambler, but what they really mean is that she is not as fond of a flutter as Alex Salmond was (Lindsay McIntosh writes).

The couple who transformed the SNP into an election-winning machine are not two halves of the same whole. This is not a tartan yin and yang scenario. Just because he is something, does not mean she cannot be it too.

Yesterday Ms Sturgeon staked her legacy, her party and, more importantly, the country’s future on a day sometime between autumn 2018 and the spring 2019.

It was an extraordinary, unanticipated act of brinkmanship. Believing Theresa May will trigger Article 50 today, the first minister jumped in first.

In radio bulletins less than an hour before the speech in Bute House, the official residence where her predecessor fell on his sword having lost his own big bet, the assumption was still that she intended simply to issue one last warning to Mrs May. How wrong they were. Unfurl your saltires and your union flags, reopen those rifts you’ve just healed with your nearest and dearest: indyref2 is on its way, whether you like it or not (the polls say not).

The SNP says it’s not indyref2, however. That would suggest it’s a rerun of 2014 and the party knows you don’t want that — indeed, it doesn’t want that, given that it lost.

Ms Sturgeon was at pains to paint the choice as very different from that offered three years ago. It is no longer between the status quo and a risky new set-up. Instead, it is between an unfamiliar post-Brexit UK and a Scotland that is closer to the status quo, with EU membership and open borders. At the casino table where Ms Sturgeon is sitting, the game is constitutional trumps. Does your EU vote trump your independence one? The first minister is betting that the number of “no” voters who will change their allegiance because their support for Remain was frustrated will beat the number of “yes” voters who backed Leave and do not want to vote to get back into the EU.

But beneath this extra layer of complexity, a lot of the problems that emerged in 2014 remain.

The nationalists clearly haven’t solved the pesky question of currency, for example. When Ms Sturgeon was asked about it yesterday she deployed one of Mr Salmond’s favourite tactics to deal with a tricky question: chortle slightly and admonish the hack for suggesting that she should have all the answers/be prepared to reveal them at this early stage.

Does it matter? Well, if she checked the bookies’ odds, she could have got 1-2 for independence.

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