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How would a clean Brexit affect Scottish independence?

It may be that we have reached a stage in Scotland where the whole debate about Scottish independence has gone beyond reason. Some people want independence come what may, just because they want it. There is a limit to the power of argument. People support political positions and then find reasons to justify them, not the other way round. But Scottish nationalism faces a greater challenge that most historical independence movements. It not only lacks the overwhelming majority that has usually been necessary for the emergence of new sovereign nation states, it lacks a majority at all.

It is for this reason that Scottish nationalists still need to try to persuade that relatively small percentage of the Scottish public who are undecided on independence or at least open to changing their minds. But this leads to a certain tension within Scottish nationalism, which the Brexit debate has made still more visible.

Who in Scotland is most likely to want Brexit? I strongly suspect more SNP supporters want Brexit than supporters of any other party. Scottish Conservatives are still relatively few in number and a good number are Remainers. Hard Left old-fashioned Labour supporters might think that the EU is a capitalist conspiracy designed to undermine the workers, but these people have been declining since their 70s peak. Liberal Democrats who support Brexit no doubt exist, but must be about as rare as Tories in the Labour Party.

Why do a significant number of SNP supporters want Brexit? Some do so because they think that it makes a second independence referendum more likely. They also hope that the anger some Scots feel about leaving the EU will mean they change their minds about independence. For this reason, an SNP Europhile might cynically support Brexit as a means to an end.

But a significant number of SNP supporters want Brexit because they see it as the condition for the possibility of Scotland becoming genuinely independent. The arguments for Brexit with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU are, after all, similar to the arguments for Scotland being independent from the UK. They are sovereignty arguments.

The contradiction at the heart of official SNP policy of being opposed to rule by Westminster, but happy to be ruled by Brussels is obvious. If you so love being in a Union of European countries, why are you unhappy being in a Union of British ones? Scottish independence supporters may argue that the EU is a looser union than the UK and that Scotland could still be an independent sovereign nation state in the EU, but this doesn’t look like a good long-term bet. Ever closer union is liable to turn independence very quickly into independence in name only.

It is therefore reasonable for some SNP supporters to see Brexit as a stepping stone to genuine Scottish independence. The problem they face is the SNP’s official Europhile viewpoint exists for a reason.

The SNP offered the softest possible version of independence in 2014. They put forward a view that independence would be so close to remaining in the UK that we would hardly notice the difference. The argument went, so to speak, that Scotland would be Austria, while the other parts of the UK would be Germany. Crossing the border would be seamless. The currency would be the same. The EU rules and regulations would mean trade went on as normal and we could all live and work where we pleased.

But here is where Brexit makes the difference. If Germany were to leave the EU, then this would profoundly affect their fellow German speakers in Austria. Likewise, for Scotland, if the UK leaves the EU completely, then the idea that Scotland can have soft independence becomes untenable.

This is the dilemma for independence supporters. In order to win the argument they need the softest possible independence, but this depends not only on Scotland remaining in the EU, it depends on the UK remaining too. The problem for the SNP however is that they have no way of controlling how the other parts of the UK vote on Brexit.

It may be that a clean Brexit turns a certain number of Scottish Liberal Democrats and Labour supporters into independence supporters. Opinion polls may show a surge in support for the SNP, but they will still have to win the argument and if the UK completely separates from the EU that argument will be much, much harder to win. Hardcore independence supporters will be happy with hard independence both outside the EU and outside the UK, but Europhile Scots would have to recognise that if Scotland were in the EU while the UK was out, Scottish independence would be harder still.  There could be no pretence that life would go on in more or less the same way. The break with the other parts of the UK would wide and deep. This would be a hard independence and a very clean break.

Even after nearly one hundred years of independence the Irish economy is so intertwined with the UK that a clean Brexit will have severe consequences for trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, what would it do to an independent Scotland?

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/07/how-would-clean-brexit-affect-scottish.html

About Effie Deans

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Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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One comment

  1. It is a puzzle how there could be independence supporting Scots who also support EU member ship. Now that the Far Right in the EU has abandoned leaving it will inevitable form a single state (as it says on the tin).

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