For a long time the British electorate have yearned for the luxury of three options on Brexit – they’ve had to make do with one.
The old marriage of British politics – Labour versus Tory, one idea set against an alternative – died on the day of Brexit. A surprising popular vote left politicians clueless as to what the people thought, and they have since struggled to divine the popular will. Our national debate collapsed into confusion.
Labour lost the ability to make headlines, tell the truth or even count; look at those static poll figures. It appeared leader Jeremy Corbyn was for Brexit, while leader of the Brexiting government Theresa May was against.
It now seems Corbyn will not oppose a second referendum, but will not push for one.
Meanwhile, May is keen never to hear from the people again.
A choice is emerging where there has been muddle.
Labour gathered in Liverpool like a budget version of the Exotic Marigold Hotel. They leave in better shape; in place of strife they have some unity.
John McDonnell had to deny plotting against Corbyn before announcing workers would own chunks of private firms should Labour come to power.
Revolutionary stuff, met with barely a squeal from the right-wing commentators. Brexit seems to have sapped the fight from the Tory press. That, or nobody thinks Labour will come to power.
On the great issue of the age, McDonnell said there could be a people’s vote, but only on the terms, not on the principle.
Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer contradicted this the next day, saying voters should be allowed to pick Remain and be done with this nightmare.
Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech yesterday was a good one. He was strong on the party’s anti-racist tradition. He condemned ugly capitalism and “called time” on the “racket” of outsourcing.
He echoed John McDonnell’s workers’ ownership plans, but the rest was middle-of-road social democratic stuff about early years, triple-lock pensions and a green revolution.
He sought to paint a picture of a Brexit betrayed; not the advertised one of milk and honey, but one curdling in the sweaty palms of an incompetent government and ideologically driven party.
Include a customs union and no hard border in Ireland and he’d support Brexit. Don’t, and he wont.
That said, it is not clear what Labour’s Brexit policy is. Corbyn said he would oppose the Chequers plan and any no-deal exit and demand a general election. Not, then, a call for a referendum – and May has already rejected any new election.
Thus Labour has said if someone else gets a referendum together it won’t oppose – but nor will it advocate one. I’m not sure this will hold; it appears indecisive. The conference had given the impression of being for a second vote, but back-tracked.
Which brings us to the person who wants to be the third party in the marriage – Nicola Sturgeon.
Leading the second-largest party, by membership, in the UK and against Brexit from the outset, she has yet to make a mark on the Brexit process.
Sturgeon has played a strong hand in domestic policy, identifying the problems that need to be fixed.
Ironically it is the constitution that has got away from her.
Nicola Sturgeon resists a second referendum on Brexit for fear it will set a precedent. If the voters are allowed to rethink a mandate to leave the EU, then a rethink on any independence terms for Scotland would be legitimate.
Her call for indyref in 2017 was daft – the wrong time, no new arguments. It acted like a sugar rush on the nat faithful who are only just coming down.
She is letting Brexit get the better of her, too. Not wishing to set a precedent for any future Indy decision and not wanting to alienate pro-Brexit Indy voters, she is letting the country down.
It is clear the only way Brexit can be checked is to vote on it. If Sturgeon opts for a second referendum she will win support in Scotland, and appear more decisive than Labour.
In rescuing Britain from this folly, Sturgeon could fundamentally shift the perception of Indy: no longer a grievance charter, but a prudent strategic choice. People who have never trusted the SNP or the facts of Indy would see it more favourably. If Sturgeon has the wisdom and courage to resist Brexit, then maybe her Indy schemes are also rooted in the same values: Indy not as an obsession, but a pragmatic response to circumstances.
Lets us have three options in our political debate before we head into this messiest of divorces.