Ian Blackford kicks off SNP conference by calling for an election

Blackford's speech, and the SNP's strategy, make it hard to see how a Brexit referendum can be secured in this parliament.


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Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, has kicked their annual conference off with a major speech that reiterated the dividing lines the party wants to draw in a looming general election – and underlined the party’s opposition to another In-Out referendum before an election.

The two factors are closely linked. One of the big contrasts the SNP want to draw is between the government in Scotland – well-run, capable of passing meaningful and significant legislation, opposed to Brexit – and the government in Westminster – dysfunctional, incapable of passing meaningful legislation, supportive of Brexit – and, of course, it is harder to do that if the parliament in London proves itself capable of ending Brexit.

A morale-boosting Panelbase poll for the Times underlines the scale of the prize on offer if Brexit happens or is seen as having a realistic prospect of happening – and, equally, the short-term damage that stopping Brexit may do to the SNP’s project. There is also the matter of Alex Salmond’s trial, which some SNP MPs fear will damage the party's political prospects if it occurs during the campaign.

But the whys of the SNP’s opposition to a second referendum this side of an election are secondary. It doesn’t much matter why the SNP wants to move towards an election first – as long as they can find a reason to do that, rather than go for a referendum, then the prospects of a second referendum before an election are essentially non-existent.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.