Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Scotland be Brave – Demand Indyref2 and Quit the UK

The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) conference begins on Thursday this week, and there is one huge issue hanging over the gathering of the party’s activists, Brexit. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has set up a commission to look at Brexit’s effect on Scotland, which may well determine the party’s approach when it reports, but it also serves to delay a decision on whether a second independence referendum will be sought. This is handy given the lack of clarity around the intentions of the UK government.

From the noises coming out of the Tory leadership, the UK government appears to be intent on a strategy of ‘hard Brexit’, which ditches the European Court’s primacy over ‘British’ law, if we have such a thing, and withdrawal from the European Single Market. It looks to be clear that no exceptions will be granted to Scotland, whose people voted 62%-38% in favour of remaining in the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon’s caution is understandable, since it is only two years ago the Scots voted to stay in the UK, but of course, the situation has changed considerably now with the Brexit vote. It can be argued, quite convincingly, that the union the Scots decided to stay in 2014 has fundamentally changed, and so a new referendum should be held. But can it be won for independence? If it is not won, it really will kick the issue aside for a generation. High stakes indeed.

Ex SNP leader Alex Salmon, has called for a second independence referendum by 2018-19, and this appears to have some support in the SNP, but there are other voices within the party who are urging caution, worrying about a second loss, with opinion polls indicating the result would be similar to 2014.

Tommy Sheppard, one of four deputy leader candidates, told The Scotsman, “I think it is because everyone is so aware that if we get another chance for this it will be our last and we have to get it right. There is no room for vanity projects. No room for mistakes. Everything has to be thought through and tested to destruction and put back together. Not until all of that has been done do we go forward on this.”

SNP MEP Alyn Smith, another deputy leader candidate told the same newspaper, “There is a ruthless pragmatism among the membership, where everybody is united that we want to see an independent Scotland, but everyone is equally united that we don’t want to lose another independence referendum.”

Angus Robertson, the front runner to become deputy leader said, “I’m going to stick with the timetable the First Minister has set, which is we go through the options, we do that methodically, and we do it on the basis of the best advice that is there. But the Article 50 process has a timetable that is limited and I certainly don’t want to see Scotland outside the EU.”

The SNP’s Westminster MPs are fighting to get Parliament to have a say in the formal decision to trigger Article 50, at the moment, not reasonably, but the Prime Minister, Theresa May appears set on excluding Parliament from the decision, on dubious constitutional grounds.

All of this demonstrates a nervousness on the part of the SNP’s leadership, which is understandable, as I say, but the risk of delaying too long, is that the moment passes, and Scotland will be dragged reluctantly out of the EU. Once Article 50 is triggered, probably early in the new year, the clock starts to tick on Brexit, and it would be easier for Scotland to remain in the EU, rather than try and get back into the organisation once the UK has left. European leaders may be more amenable to making this easier for Scotland, than they indicated in 2014, to stick it to the English, after their rejection of the EU.

The fall in the price of oil recently, makes it more difficult to make the independence case, although Scotland is blessed with potentially vast renewable energy resources. Questions over the currency of the independent nation have not been adequately resolved either. 

I should declare an interest here, not that I am Scottish or even very likely to move to Scotland, beautiful country that it is, but it’s probably too cold and wet for me. I do though want London to leave the UK and become independent, and for this to happen, Scotland needs to lead the way. In 2014, in the lead up to the Scottish independence referendum, the London Evening Standard commissioned an opinion poll on London independence and found 20% in favour. When Scottish independence gets into the news, people start to think, why can’t London do the same, given our much larger economy and population?

It would also force Labour to take a change to proportional voting more seriously in England than they appear to be doing now, whatever happens with London.

The situation is more fertile now after the Brexit vote, so the level of support could rise in London for independence, but Scotland needs to be the catalyst, I think. Far be it from me to tell the Scots what to do, but I hope they will consider whether they want to remain in country that is moving towards becoming an ugly, insular and intolerant one. 

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