Nicola Sturgeon, the new leader of the SNP, has described Alex Salmond as “a hard act to follow”. Which indeed he will be. But Ms Sturgeon is no less committed than he was to the creation of an independent Scotland.
While Salmond was an inspiration to some Scots, to others he was a divisive and threatening figure. He reacted badly to losing the referendum, claiming that the Scots had been “tricked” into voting No. Sturgeon, wisely, did not indulge in recriminations, and has accepted that independence can only come about through a popular vote. She has promised to govern for all Scots, not just the 44.7 per cent who voted for independence.
At 44, she says that she expects to see Scotland leave the UK in her lifetime, and there is no reason to think that these are empty words. Last month’s result has stalled the pro-independence movement for now, but in this asymmetrical contest, the independence movement only has to win a referendum once to get its way permanently. Those who believe in the Union must keep winning every time.
Ms Sturgeon takes over a party that is far from defeated. It has a battalion of new members, fired up by the referendum campaign. There is no immediate prospect of their losing political control in the Holyrood parliament, which has been promised more power to run Scotland’s affairs. It is forecast that in next year’s general election the SNP will take more seats in Scotland than Labour or any other party. In a hung Parliament, the SNP could be in a strong position to bargain with whichever party hopes to form the UK government. The opportunities are huge, and Sturgeon’s record shows she has the shrewdness to make full use of them. In her quiet way, she could be more dangerous than Salmond to the continued existence of the UK.