Anas Hassan: Nicola Sturgeon's foot is firmly on the independence accelerator

CommonSpace columnist Anas Hassan looks at the aftermath of last week’s Scottish National Party conference and what he thinks the future has in store for the party and Scotland overall

PRIOR to ten o'clock last Thursday morning, one couldn't be blamed for being unable to fully predict what lay ahead at the SECC in Glasgow. Would Nicola Sturgeon give the green light for a second independence referendum or blow the half or even full time whistle on any re-visit of the constitutional question?

But she didn't even wait for her keynote speech on Saturday afternoon to reveal to the audience in the hall and beyond last Thursday that a draft bill would be published on a second independence vote.

In a sense, it seemed surprising and all a bit too fast. Why couldn't have she waited until Saturday afternoon to make that key announcement in time for the Sunday newspaper front pages? That would have represented more effective timing of her key announcement given how the news cycle normally works.

Read more – Scotland’s first minister sets wheels in motion for post-Brexit Scottish Independence Referendum Bill

Later this week, we will all find out what that draft bill entails and have more of a clue how matters are intended for future progress. The first minister has understandably kept all avenues open in the event that Scotland could potentially have a special deal on retaining access to the European single market. And although the likelihood of this is uncertain, a second independence referendum is not necessarily the top option at this stage, given the political context.

And there seems to be very little dissent from SNP supporters over the timing of current affairs. This is important for the leadership in order to continue to make progress. Whilst some would undoubtedly love to have a referendum tomorrow, it seems to be generally accepted that rushing towards independence is not the wise option right now.

Whilst some would undoubtedly love to have a referendum tomorrow, it seems to be generally accepted that rushing towards independence is not the wise option right now.

But there are a few factors to consider. Despite the inevitable euphoria of party conference and the flourishing optimism that comes out of it, the polling evidence is still not overwhelming nor consistent enough. Many people remain to be convinced in the real world, despite the chaos of Brexit. You cannot win on a vote of 50 per cent minus one.

The economy will also be a key issue, particularly an independent Scotland's future currency. It is utterly incoherent for a country that wants control over its own economy to enter any kind of a currency union, whether that is the plummeting pound sterling or the floundering euro.

On the latter in particular, a country within the European Union(EU) cannot join the eurozone until they satisfy what is known as the 'convergence criteria'. It is misleading to assume that Scotland seeking membership of the EU will lead them to be forced to automatically adopt use of the euro with immediate effect.

It is misleading to assume that Scotland seeking membership of the EU will lead them to be forced to automatically adopt use of the euro with immediate effect.

All this is why any future Yes campaign needs to take a definitive stance on what currency an independent Scotland will use. A Scottish pound represents certainly and potentially the most difficult option, but at the same time the most ambitious one for the long term.

The key here is control and not necessarily value (although who is to say that a Scottish pound won't be worth much value for starters?). Being at the mercy of a central bank not situated within your own nation's geography is the equivalent of having your hands tied behind the steering wheel, unless you are willing to accept less control over your own economy. There needs to be more straight-talking on this issue.

And also, the organisation of an independent Scotland needs to be considered. There is no doubt that the nation has much of a head start with devolution and many areas being governed for already. But Scotland must consider how it asserts itself on home affairs, the provision of full welfare and foreign affairs.

The Scottish Government is seeking no permission to put Scotland out there on the European continent, and is making no apologies for it either.

However, it's unfair to say that nothing is currently happening. It has been revealed that there is now Scottish trade representation in Brussels, Dublin and London and in future there will also be representation in Berlin. The Scottish Government is seeking no permission to put Scotland out there on the European continent, and is making no apologies for it either.

The one powerful and revealing thing from last week's SNP conference was how outreaching it was. We witnessed the Brain family and heard about their prolonged struggles with the Home Office. We also saw the standing ovation given to the Chhokar family and Aamer Anwar. And we heard from Mireille Pouget and former MSP Christian Allard.

And during the First Minister's second keynote speech, there was an announcement of an independent review into the care system. The campaigners who won this made their presence clear and memorable as they blossomed with their love hearts in the air at the front of the audience.

The word inclusion, not independence, was the key theme to last week's SNP conference. And given everything that is happening and what may yet be ahead, the former word could yet be the winning key to Scottish independence.

Picture courtesy First Minister of Scotland

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