In Scotland the current discourse is focused on one thing: the prospect of a second referendum on independence. At first I argued for a quick second referendum to capitalise on the Tories’ decision to prohibit such a vote, however later argued in favour of holding off to avoid a Quebec situation from occurring. With the EU referendum result so starkly different to that of England, the idea of self-rule has been reinvigorated. Views on independence have dominated the Scottish political scene since September 2014 but I believe that the Yes campaign will be in much better shape going into this second vote and independence will be inevitable.
A second referendum on independence will pose a number of problems from the Yes campaign, as polls show that the two sides are pretty neck and neck, however the EU vote has made it more likely that Scotland will secede for a number of different reasons. The first is a trust issue. The EU was not the most important issue in the referendum campaign but it was definitely in the top five. During the 2014 referendum EU membership was sold as only being possible if Scotland remained inside the UK. With this clearly no longer being the case, this mistrust can be universalised to question all the promises of Better Together.
Further, the economic dimension of EU membership can no longer be deployed by the No campaign. One of the arguments against independence was that Scotland risked leaving the EU as well as the UK and this would be economically challenging. Whilst I believe this would have been correct if Scotland had left in 2014 due to historical precedents, this is irrelevant now as the ground has shifted. The No campaign cannot say that leaving the UK would be harmful to Scotland’s economy, because the Yes campaign would respond with: “we are leaving the eighth biggest economy in the world, in order to rejoin the second biggest”. The response from unionists, many of whom would also be pro-EU, would be crickets.
The other thing to consider is in relation to Scotland’s future currency. During the 2014 referendum the Yes campaign, in my view mistakenly, argued in favour of a currency union with the rest of the UK. However this could no longer work. It’s just not feasible if for the two countries to share a currency when Scotland were inside the EU and the rest of the UK wasn’t. This being the case, the Yes campaign would be able to argue in favour of a new currency with a central bank in Edinburgh and the old arguments against shared use of Sterling would be irrelevant. The only argument I could think of against a new currency would be that financial markets wouldn’t know how stable such a currency would be, but the response would be that the new currency would belong to a country inside the EU, which is much larger than the UK. The other issue that would cause uncertainty was about debt. In 2014 Alex Salmond threatened to not take Scotland’s portion of the national debt if the UK refused to accept a currency union, and this caused uncertainty. If the conversation has moved on from a currency union, there would be no such threat and therefore no uncertainty would arise from this area.
The final aspect of the EU I want to talk about is automatic membership. In 2014 the argument put forward by Alex Salmond was that Scotland would automatically become a member of the EU. At the time I thought this was a terrible argument because of Spain. Spain has not even recognised Kosovo’s independence, let alone allowed it to join the EU. Obviously this is down to it’s own problems with secessionist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country. However it is unclear what Spain’s position would be in this post-Brexit situation. For example, the argument used by Spain is that Scotland wouldn’t have automatic EU membership because this would embolden Catalan and Basque secessionists. But if Scotland left the UK because the UK had left the EU, that is not the same situation. Spain could still argue that Catalonia, for example, wouldn’t have automatic EU membership. Indeed, the Spanish government could say that the only way that Catalonia would get automatic membership would be if Spain left the EU and Catalonia broke away afterwards, just like the UK and Scotland. Because the situation had changed, Spain could maintain its old arguments whilst not vetoing an independent Scotland’s accession.
The issue of timing has been a difficult one but thankfully one of Mr Cameron’s parting promises secured that for the pro-independence movement. Mr Cameron promised a vote on renewing the Trident nuclear missile system, and Mrs May has agreed to that timetable. The first vote is scheduled to take place on Monday 18th July. Although all SNP MPs will vote to oppose the renewal of Trident and the Scottish Labour Party officially opposes renewing the weapon system, the vote is expected to pass. This is because almost all Tory MPs support renewal and most Labour MPs are expected to vote with the government. This vote will be the final nail in the coffin.
In the first independence referendum the argument was about opposing Trident’s renewal, and a desire to get them out of Scotland. However if the vote to renew Trident is before a second referendum, and the vote passes, the Yes campaign can make a simple argument: “the UK government is not going to keep it’s nuclear weapons base in a different country, and so independence is the only way of getting rid of these missiles”. I oppose the renewal of Trident but it would be foolish to say that the vote will not pass on Monday, and if the prospect of renewal was enough to get people to the polls, the actual decision to oppose what the people of Scotland want will benefit the Yes campaign much more. Furthermore, the fact that Scottish Labour also oppose Trident renewal may push the needle of some Scottish Labour voters and make them consider independence, particularly if their goal is a more left-wing country.
To conclude, the EU referendum result has had interesting constitutional implications for the UK and these are most vocally discussed in the context of Scotland. Some of the main arguments against independence have become null and void by the change in circumstances, which leaves the No campaign in a more difficult position. Also, a reliable source has told me that the Yes campaign have had a post-mortem about where they went wrong in terms of organising the vote, and will have a much better strategy in a second referendum campaign.
Opinion polls vary in their findings, but quite a few after the Brexit result(#1, #2, #3) now show a majority in favour of secession. This being the case, the Scottish government should begin making loud demands for a second referendum as any attempts by Westminster to stop the Scottish people from having their say will only harden attitudes against the Union. Don’t get this wrong Scotland. Another failed independence attempt will make this cause exactly like that of Quebec secessionism, and this cannot be allowed to happen.