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28 Nov, 2019 15:44

Scotland should not be denied IndyRef2, but will it lead to independence?

Scotland should not be denied IndyRef2, but will it lead to independence?

The Scottish National Party wants to hold another independence referendum next year, but even if opposition from London is overcome – would IndyRef2 result in an independent Scotland if the vote is tied to membership of the EU?

If Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP get their way, then six years after the last independence referendum, Scots will get the chance to vote again. The catalyst for the new push for a public vote is the imminent prospect of Britain leaving the EU. Sturgeon says that a vote for the SNP would allow Scots “escape Brexit and put Scotland’s future in Scottish hands.”

On the face of it, that seems fair enough. Only 38 percent of Scots voted for Brexit. Why should Scotland have to leave the EU because England and Wales voted in favor?

Furthermore, Scottish claims to independent statehood, outside of the UK are very strong from a historical viewpoint. Scotland has its own legal system, its own education system, its own Church, and was a separate country with its own Kings for many centuries, as any student of Shakespeare will know. While the arguments for maintaining the UK in its present state are strong, so too are the arguments for Scottish independence. But there are two main obstacles.

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Firstly, London. The Tories, the likeliest winners of next month’s general election ( if we believe the polls) have ruled out support for a second vote, with acting Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlow saying there shouldn’t be one until at least forty years after the last one!

To try and assuage Scottish grievances, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for over £5 billion extra spending in Scotland over the next five years. Labour, for its part, has ruled out backing an IndyRef2 until 2022, but that could change if there is a hung Parliament and Labour needs SNP support to govern.

Let’s suppose that scenario does happen. What are the odds of a 2020 or 2021 IndyRef resulting in independence?

Paradoxically, it’s the SNP’s enthusiasm for EU membership which could scupper it. For how ‘independent’ would Scotland actually be, outside of the UK, but inside the EU?

The SNP are passionately pro-EU today, but it wasn’t always the case. In fact, the party used to be the most Euroskeptic of all of Britain’s major parties. In 1975, the SNP strongly opposed Britain’s membership of the EEC, in the referendum held that year. It’s parliamentary leader Donald Stewart said that the EEC “represents everything our party has fought against: centralization, undemocratic procedures, power politics and a fetish for abolishing cultural differences.”

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Other leading SNP figures warned that continued EEC membership would destroy Scotland.

So what’s changed?  Scotland has received significant funding from EU bodies. Over £500 million a year comes in from the Common Agricultural Policy. Structural funds in Scotland are worth up to £941 million across the EU budget.

So from a financial viewpoint, you can see why Nicola Sturgeon is so keen on maintaining EU membership.

The problem is though, that if Brexit takes place before IndyRef2 is held, Scotland might have to reapply for membership. And that would put them in a weaker position vis-a-vis the EU than today.

As the Edinburgh-based writer Kenneth Bell puts it in his book ‘The Brexit Collection’: “Scotland’s position, if the country votes for independence and then seeks entry to the EU, will be very weak indeed. The country would not appear at the negotiating table as a confident, modern democracy, but as a beggar, pleading to be allowed entry under whatever terms it gets.” Bell argues that a Scotland, outside of the EU, would be able to take control of its fishing waters, to the huge economic benefit of the country. “After having fought so long and hard for a Scottish Parliament, we cannot now hand the country over to Brussels, and then sit back as our Parliament enacts legislation that puts into law the regulations that emanates from Brussels”, Bell says and many will agree with him.

The two latest polls show that support for Scottish independence to be hovering around 45 percent, that‘s to say around the same level it was in the 2014 referendum.

Perhaps the implementation of Brexit will shoot the figure up to above the magic 50 percent. But would Sturgeon manage to get the support of pro-independence, Brexit supporters in an IndyRef2?

Perhaps the smartest, and indeed most democratic, thing to do would be to decouple IndyRef2 from membership of the EU, and then hold another referendum on that. Then those who want Scotland to leave the UK, and the EU too, would not feel disenfranchised.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.