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What did you learn Nicola?

I don’t want Mrs Sturgeon to click her ruby slippers together while repeating endlessly that there’s no place like Scotland. Nor is it helpful to once more hear nationalists repeat clichés like “A hard Tory Brexit makes independence inevitable.” But it might be useful to revisit Scottish independence in the light of what we have all learned since the decision to leave the EU.

  1. If there were a second referendum on Scottish independence, it would not be a Yes/No question.

Scottish nationalists still think that they would have the advantage of campaigning for Yes, but this would reverse the precedent set by the Electoral Commission to make the EU referendum a Remain/Leave question. Obviously any future Scottish independence referendum with a Yes/No question would be challenged legally.

  1. In order to win Scottish independence, the SNP would have to win four times.

In order to have a legal referendum on independence, the SNP will have to gain another pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament (i).

They will then have to win a vote to Leave the UK (ii).

They will then have to win a second referendum to Leave the UK after the terms of deal negotiated with the UK become clear to the Scottish public (iii).

It has already been established both by the actions of the SNP after the 2014 independence referendum and the Remain campaign after the 2016 EU referendum that campaigning for a second referendum is legitimate.

They will then have to win a vote in the UK’s Parliament (iv), although it will never be possible for the SNP to have more than 59 seats there.

It has been shown recently that the UK Parliament may if it chooses reject the result of a legal referendum. No-one questions that it would be legal for the UK Government to decide to water down leaving the EU to such an extent that it would be Brexit in name only. It would likewise be within the power of the Government to reverse Article 50.

Therefore the UK Government could decide that Scottish voters did not understand independence or that the SNP exaggerated the benefits and minimised the costs. Perhaps the SNP would have a bus that claimed Scots would be better off by £1000 per year after independence. Perhaps they would make some other claim that turned out to be false in the period after the vote. Well this could be used by the Remain dominated Parliament in Westminster to argue that the Scottish Leave vote was illegitimate.

  1. The slogan “Independence in Europe” involves a contradiction.

If the UK cannot leave the EU without surrendering to a Carthaginian peace, not leaving at all or leaving without a deal, then what sort of independence would Scotland have in the EU? If Scotland could never leave the EU once we joined, then we would have the independence of a prisoner.

Some Scottish nationalists would be quite happy to surrender their hard won sovereignty to Brussels just so long as we are not ruled by London. But this is to apply the logic of “anyone but England” to matters rather more serious than football.

  1. Being in a different trade bloc to your closest economic partner makes no sense.

Even after nearly 100 years of independence the Irish economy is hugely dependent on trade with the UK. Being in a different trade bloc to the UK will damage trade between the UK and Ireland and may lead to tariffs. This would still more be the case in the event of Scotland becoming independent. The Scottish economy is closely integrated with the other parts of the UK, but this could not survive if the UK were outside the EU while Scotland chose to join. Even if Scotland didn’t join the EU there would still need to be trade negotiations between the UK and Scotland. Anyone who thinks trade negotiations are straightforward hasn’t been paying attention. After all, the UK hasn’t haven’t reached them yet with the EU. We can’t even agree on the divorce terms.

  1. Borders are not simply lines on a map

The negotiations over the Irish backstop show that keeping open a border between a non-EU country and the EU is complex at best, impossible at worst. Technology may allow tariffs to be collected and migration to be monitored. But it is proving difficult enough when Ireland is not in Schengen. How much more difficult would it be if Scotland were forced to join Schengen. It is after all a condition of EU membership.

  1. You can’t always get what you want

Scotland would have to simultaneously negotiate trade deals with both the EU and the UK. This would be the case whether or not Scotland chose to join the EU. If the UK is able in the future to make trade deals with other countries like USA, Australia and New Zealand, these deals would not automatically apply to Scotland and so would have to be negotiated too.

The key lesson we have learned in the past two years is that the EU has used the negotiation process to try to prevent the UK from leaving. We have been offered a deal that is worse than remaining. What would prevent the UK doing the same to Scotland? What would prevent the UK working together with Pro UK Scots, Remainers, to thwart Scottish independence and make the price of that independence so high that Scots would be left in the position of having to accept either Scottish independence in name only or a “No deal” with tariffs and border controls between Gretna and Berwick? If it is legitimate for the EU to act in this way why couldn’t the UK Government do likewise? No doubt there would be lots of goodwill towards Scotland, after all none of us can remember any Scots saying anything nasty about our neighbours, but what if that goodwill began to evaporate as the divorce ran into difficulty and disagreement?

So what did you learn Nicola? Up until now your answer to ever question has been independence. The Emerald City lies on the horizon and if only we could get there we would find it was in fact the Sapphire city with a Saltire flying from its highest point. In the Wizard’s bag we would each find what we needed and the Yellow Brick Road would turn out to be paved with gold. But Scottish nationalism is not going to get there if it continues to think in clichés. There are hard questions to answer and they are getting harder. The hardest of all is this.

We have learned that a referendum decides nothing whatsoever. The losers just keep on campaigning as if nothing had happened and fight to overturn the result. The logic of this though is that that there never will be another referendum in the UK. Did you learn that lesson Nicola? If so, how do you achieve independence?

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/12/what-did-you-learn-nicola.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. My own view is that SNP and Sturgeon are using Brexit to stoke their grievance agenda and that they don’t really care about joining the EU. All they really want is the break up of the UK. I think it is nothing more than that. It should not be called creation of a new country called Scotland but the destruction of the 300 year old United Kingdom. That is something we fought for six years to avoid during World Wat 2 and now it seems that this is being allowed to occur from within is incomprehensible. They know that joining the EU would take many years of hard work to get the budget deficit down to under 3 per cent and already that means a choice of higher personal taxes or budget cuts and Scots will not like that they paying more taxes to fund the promise of more strife. Finally joining the EU with the promise of immigration and shengen and the Euro will not help any divorce from England. I can imagine some kind of underground railway allowing EU citizens to move into England illegally and border controls as you state on mai highways.

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