Forget all the people’s vote claptrap – the SNP will say anything to try to break apart the UK.

By Graham Grant

SPARE a thought for the BBC Scotland web journalist covering the march of independence supporters in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Report the official estimate of attendance and you provoke the wrath of separatist trolls complaining of alleged BBC bias.

Write up the story based on the calculations of the marchers themselves – and you end up with arithmetical contortions that would bamboozle even Carol Vorderman.

As it happened, the BBC reported both: the campaigners’ claim of 100,000 participants and the council’s estimate of around 20,000, leaving only a slight disparity of, er, 80,000 people.

Pro-independence broadcaster Lesley Riddoch painstakingly documented the march on Twitter, but didn’t repeat an earlier baffling assertion of hers that 100,000 marchers is equivalent to 1million ‘in UK terms’ – though she did berate the BBC for failing to give sufficient airtime to the SNP conference.

‘Nae bother but suggests UK can’t see any story here,’ she lamented, though she also claimed to have been booked for interviews then unceremoniously dropped by two BBC radio outlets, so perhaps we can forgive her a moment of indignation.

But like those over-inflated attendance figures at Saturday’s march, Miss Riddoch’s rant isn’t quite accurate either – the First Minister, ahead of her speech at the Glasgow conference, has made headlines by backing the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit.

It’s odd that this second plebiscite on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should be called a ‘People’s Vote’, as if the original poll only two years ago somehow didn’t involve people – more than 30million of them in fact – of whom a majority backed Brexit.

Nicola Sturgeon, ignoring the fact that about a third of SNP voters opted for Leave, has aligned herself with some of her Tory nemeses, such as Lord Heseltine, to call for that second vote, hoping it will cement the party’s anti-Brexit credentials.

Remainers lined up to back her, with former BBC journalist Gavin Esler attempting to rubbish the assertion that Brexit was about smashing elites, as the Leave campaign was run by ‘assorted old Etonians’.

But how to account for the fact that Brexit voters weren’t part of an elite – unless an elite can comprise more than half of the electorate?

Ah, well, they were all duped, you see, taken in by a gigantic swindle, orchestrated by shadowy capitalists (though inconveniently quite a lot of Brexit supporters are from the Left, including Jeremy Corbyn), meaning the outcome couldn’t be trusted, and necessitating another vote.

There’s also the awkward question of precedent-setting – once you accept referendum results aren’t set in stone, what does that mean for any future vote in favour of Scotland leaving the UK (a prospect that is now ‘inevitable’, according to Miss Sturgeon).

‘If you look back to 2014,’ she argued, ‘there was a detailed proposition put to people in that referendum, the White Paper, which not everybody agreed with, obviously.

‘But it was a detailed proposition, setting out the implications, setting out in advance some of the compromises that would be required – currency union, for example, continued regulatory harmony.’

By contrast, in 2016, there was the ‘lie on the side of the bus and nothing more’.

Your recollection of the White Paper might differ a little – for example it claimed that oil revenues would bring in up to £7.9billion, a figure that turned out to be closer to £226million – another one of those slight disparities, similar to the disagreement about attendance numbers at Saturday’s march.

Except that the SNP was allegedly producing a blueprint for the creation of a new nation state – the stakes were a little higher.

The mastermind of that White Paper, which might have been rejected by Lewis Carroll for being excessively fantastical, was Miss Sturgeon, who still refers to it as if it were a reliable set text even though its many fabrications helped to steer the independence movement towards defeat in 2014.

We all know that if the Nationalists triumphed in a knife-edge ‘indyref2’, they would brook no talk of a ‘People’s Vote’, for as long as they remained in power, and Miss Sturgeon, assuming she stayed in office, would suffer a bout of strategic amnesia about her round of media interviews this weekend.

Miss Sturgeon knows her MPs could play a pivotal part in approving the final Brexit deal, and has declared that she will reject any plan that stops short of full membership of the Single Market and customs union.

Given this option is firmly off the table, Miss Sturgeon is in effect advocating the ‘no deal’ option that has produced a plethora of apocalyptic scenarios – the most entertaining of which was SNP-run Glasgow City Council warning it wouldn’t be able to lift the bins.

Armageddon indeed (mind you, it doesn’t always lift them just now, and we’re still in the EU…)

Last week we were also treated to the spectacle of several senior Nationalists using the Kremlin-backed TV channel RT, formerly Russia Today, to urge Miss Sturgeon to move quickly on a second independence referendum.

Former Health Secretary Alex Neil, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil and ex-Holyrood Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick all made the plea when they were guests on Alex Salmond’s chat show.

They favoured the programme with their presence despite rather mealy-mouthed admonitions from party chiefs, including Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who believes it is ‘inappropriate’ to appear on a channel with Kremlin links.

Such brazen failure to comply with appeals from the leadership wouldn’t be tolerated by Putin, of course – but then neither would any legitimate democratic vote.

One senior SNP MP disagrees with her learned friends – ‘non-practising’ QC Joanna Cherry, who told a fringe event at the conference that the party’s over-arching goal could be achieved through a ‘democratic event’, such as a General Election, rather than a referendum.

Other cunning plans (of the Baldrick variety) include agreeing to prop up a Labour government led by Mr Corbyn in the event that it fails to win a majority, but only on the condition that Labour gave the green light for ‘indyref2’.

Amid all the flip-flopping, self-delusion and blatant hypocrisy, this year’s conference has at least provided another window into the true motivations of the party at this critical time in its existence – simultaneously mired in myriad policy failures and obsessed with constitutional intrigue.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine, speaking at another fringe event (where all the barmiest ‘blue-sky thinking’ takes place), claimed that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK – valued at £45billion – is ‘a weakness’, and compared the cross-Border relationship to a business that is too reliant on one customer.

Forget the mutual benefits of one of the world’s great economic unions – the billions that flow from those ties are expendable, even if it were to mean devastating job losses (and remember that, despite her introspective stance, Miss McAlpine is convener of Holyrood’s ‘external affairs’ committee).

For all Miss Sturgeon’s right-on, deeply disingenuous and entirely specious claptrap about a ‘People’s Vote’, it’s clear there is no depth to which the SNP will not sink in its eternal mission to break up Britain.


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Graham Grant.

Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper