Scottish independence: Sturgeon announces massive gamble plan B

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith explains what the UK Supreme Court's verdict means for Scotland.

Scotland is a nation divided. Split down the middle on the question of independence.

Today it fell to the UK Supreme Court to break the stalemate; to answer once and for all if Scotland can legally have another independence vote without Westminster’s consent.

The landmark ruling was concise, but crystal clear - no.

Scotland’s first minister responded defiantly and swiftly.

Within just over an hour, Nicola Sturgeon moved to her Plan B, which is to run the next UK General Election as a ‘de facto’ independence referendum.

On her terms, she will tell people that every vote for the SNP will be counted as a vote for independence.

Nicola Sturgeon issues a statement following the decision by judges at the UK Supreme Court. Credit: PA

If she succeeds in getting more than 50% of the vote, the SNP leader will view this as the mandate she needs and will demand negotiations with the UK government on the terms of Scotland leaving the Union.

But, to be clear, this is a tall order, and a massive political gamble from a politician who is normally renowned for being cautious.

Firstly, the SNP has never managed more than 50% of the vote in any election before.

Secondly, she will trying to win without a sizeable chunk of her support - 16 and 17-year-olds tend to favour independence and could have voted in a legitimate independence referendum, whereas they cannot vote in a general election.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if she does win it still does not guarantee that independence will follow.

The first minister will be relying on the UK government - be it Conservative or Labour in power after the next election - being convinced that her ‘de facto’ referendum is a legitimate expression of will from the Scottish people. That is unlikely.

Conversely, a loss - falling short even by 1% - would be deemed a clear defeat.

Opponents could legitimately say, 'Okay, you had your referendum, you lost, now let’s move on.'

And it may be expected that Nicola Sturgeon herself should resign, given the precedent set by her predecessor Alex Salmond after he lost the independence referendum in 2014.

Ultimately, this is not the first minister’s preferred option. She conceded today she has “no other choice” now.

This is a last throw of the dice in the cause for independence, and after years of rhetoric and threats, today at last the stalemate has been broken.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.