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The First Minister could face entrenched division should the more radical elements of the Scottish National Party (SNP) choose to split from her “cautious” approach to independence, Express.co.uk was told. It comes as she was accused of walking out of a vital coronavirus briefing call between the UK’s four nations, who met following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of his road-map out of lockdown for England. Ms Sturgeon left in order to take part in Scotland’s daily coronavirus briefing, which many have said she has used as a vehicle to prove the country is a separate “state” rather than just a “nation” in the UK.
The move sparked backlash in Conservative circles, with many noting that her daily briefing included nothing noteworthy that suggested her presence was vital.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “It will raise more than a few eyebrows that Nicola Sturgeon’s priority is the BBC briefing over working together constructively with other governments.”
Further tensions are now expected as Scots prepare to go to the polls in May.
Ms Sturgeon not only has the challenge of overcoming her political opposition in order to secure independence, but also the task of muting the increasing discontent with her leadership in the SNP.
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This month has witnessed a string of high-profile dismissals in the party, most notably the influential SNP Westminster member, Joanna Cherry.
She is also dealing with the ongoing legal battle with former First Minister Alex Salmond, who has accused the Scottish government of a “concerted effort” to have him jailed.
With tensions at an all-time high, Robert Johns, Professor in Politics at Essex University who is an investigator on the Scottish Election Study, told Express.co.uk about the sort of split that could happen as SNP politicians become frustrated with Ms Sturgeon’s leadership and direction.
He said: “There’s always been a group of people who felt the SNP were too cautious, and they’ll try and set up other parties and groups who will try to be the more red-blooded types.”
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Professor Johns went on to note the opposition from the SNP’s big hitters like Ms Cherry and the recently dismissed Neale Hanvey.
He continued: “There are different kinds of splinters one might have, and it’s very clear there are some very senior people, Cherry being one, who are unhappy with the SNP’s management and strategy – to some extent the strategy on independence.”
Noting the backlash Ms Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Act received from Ms Cherry and others, he said: “It’s something I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking, ‘What are they really angry about, because it can’t be this’.
“But the more it went on, the more I’ve come to realise there’s a lot of people for whom the SNP have a pro-trans gender stance with the Gender Recognition Act – and Cherry’s very much on the opposite side of the argument – that, I genuinely think, is a division in the party.”
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Joanna Cherry: The SNP Westminster politician was sacked earlier this month
Neale Hanvey: The Westminster SNP politician was also sacked this month
Ms Cherry herself hinted at this in her New Statesman diary column, in which she wrote: “The reasons for my sacking were not made clear but I was not surprised.
“For some time a small but vocal cohort of my SNP colleagues has engaged in performative histrionics redolent of the Salem witch trials.
“The question – do you believe or have you ever believed that women are adult human females? – is one I must answer in the affirmative, but it’s not a response that is popular with some who have the ear of the leadership.”
Despite the warnings, Prof Johns admitted that a split, at least for the time being, is unlikely.
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He added: “Those groups, they’re pretty peripheral to the whole thing, they’ll get very few votes.”
Many note that Ms Sturgeon appears almost “invulnerable” to a fate other than an SNP majority in Holyrood’s elections given the strength and popularity independence currently has.
The majority of polls consistently show that more than half of Scots would vote to leave the Union if a referendum were held tomorrow.
Ms Sturgeon appears to be on her way to a landslide victory in May given the positive reception of her handling of Scotland’s coronavirus epidemic.
Boris Johnson: The PM has said Scotland should aim for 2055 as a date for an Indyref2
Should this occur, she has said she plans to hold a “legal referendum”.
Prime Minister Johnson, however, has repeatedly refused to entertain the idea of an Indyref2.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show in January that Scotland should aim for 2055 as the year a second vote is held.
This would amount to the same number of years between the two Brexit votes.
He has launched a “five-step” plan to stop Scotland from leaving, although it seems to have briefly fallen into discord after the campaign’s lead quit.
Oliver Lewis – a key member of the effort to leave the EU – said his position was made “untenable” by others in Downing Street.
Following the news, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Disunity in the Union unit. Or maybe just despair at realising how threadbare the case for it is.”