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Scottish independence in the shadow of Brexit

Callum Hutchinson

First and foremost, this is not a piece in favour of Scottish independence. Arguably, it isn’t even one in favour of granting Scotland another referendum. However, I do wish to think through these issues and point out the hypocrisy in denying Scotland another referendum. Contradictory?

Perhaps, but let’s move on.

It is obvious that another referendum on Scottish independence wouldn’t benefit the UK – it does not take a political genius to understand this. However, it may not even necessarily benefit Scotland either. Unless you are a Scottish nationalist and independence is your absolute priority, it certainly isn’t clear that trying to leave the UK is the best option for stability (my apologies for scaremongering). In the midst of Brexit, exposing the British people to yet more uncertainty by reopening debates about North Sea Oil and a potential British currency union would be quite silly.

This is especially so when it isn’t clear whether Scotland would be able to conveniently disentangle itself from Westminster whilst remaining in the EU. The SNP may try to convince you that this is the case, but this is far from given. Whilst Theresa May would have you believe the exact opposite, again, she doesn’t actually know for certain either. An independent, outward-looking, pro-European Scotland would no doubt be very convenient to a fragile EU. It is currently facing Euroscepticism just about everywhere and the prospect of a Le Pen presidency in France. Especially if the latter materialises, the EU may very well choose to accept a bit of love from the Scots. Having said this, Spain, with separatist issues of its own, will always remain a stumbling block to any potential treaty allowing Scotland to remain automatically in the EU. In the end the ‘Barroso doctrine’ may still end up applying; meaning that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership just as any new prospective member-state would have to.

All this uncertainty means that unless you are a Scottish nationalist who would be content with independence even without the EU – which would entail even more uncertainty than the current situation – you have a problem. I am not naïve; I understand that this is a brilliant opportunity for the SNP.

An independent, outward-looking, pro-European Scotland would no doubt be very convenient to a fragile EU

All this being said, I cannot help but get irritated when I hear Theresa May say that “It would be unfair to the people of Scotland that they would be being asked to make a crucial decision without the information they need to make that decision.” In light of the UK’s decision to jump into the unknown and vote for Brexit, this is such an absurd – ‘patronising’ may also work here – statement to make. Essentially, May is saying that we can take the leap into the unknown, but you can’t. You may argue that she was in the Remain camp; to this I would retaliate that you may be right in theory, but in practice she jumped that ship pretty quickly and smoothly to become Prime Minister.

I personally don’t really want to see Scotland leave the UK, and yes, the SNP probably is using the current situation to their political advantage, but this situation certainly did not come out of nowhere. The SNP made it clear all along that they would push for another independence referendum if Scotland were to be dragged out of the EU against its will. If English voters – no, not all of them, and no, the English weren’t the only ones – decided to ignore this when weighing up the pros and cons of remaining in the EU, it isn’t really the SNP’s fault. On such a fundamental issue, when your country votes unanimously and faces the prospect of being flagrantly ignored, pushing for independence does not seem like such an outrageous suggestion to me.

A suggestion which seems all the more legitimate when one considers what Brexit was about; the similarities between the Leave campaign, and, well, the prospective Leave [the UK] campaign are undeniable. Let’s not beat around the bush here, Leave won because of English (again, I admit that I am using this term liberally) nationalism. And no, I am not your classic liberal ‘snowflake’ (just an ever-so-slight one); I acknowledge that the Brexit vote wasn’t all about xenophobia and racism (although you would be kidding yourself if you didn’t think this was a factor). Brexit boiled down to regaining that extra bit of national sovereignty at the expense of economic hardship (or uncertainty at the very least). The British public turned a blind eye to the economic implications of Brexit and embraced the Leave campaign’s portrayal of the EU as a grotesque, authoritarian drain on the UK’s resources; and nationalism played a role in this – it doesn’t just manifest itself as racism and xenophobia.

‘We want our country back!’ chanted the Brexiteers; well, funnily enough, the Scottish now do too. And yet I am sure the Brexit camp will be adamant that they shouldn’t be granted their referendum; despite the fact that it is the exact same chords the Leave campaign struck with the electorate over Brexit that the Scottish nationalists will be trying to strike in turn. Much like Brexit, Scottish independence is, in a nutshell, a decision on whether to trade economic security for sovereignty. Indeed, if we turn the clock back to 2014, debates on Scottish independence had an air of those about Brexit – just replace ‘Brussels’ with ‘Westminster’. The debates obviously had a slightly different twist, but ultimately the SNP wanted the Scottish people to reclaim control from Westminster and decide for themselves how to spend Scotland’s wealth. Along with this, they repeatedly accused Better Together of ‘scaremongering’ – ring any bells yet? The SNP’s rhetoric was, and is, no more narrow-minded than that of our dear Brexiteer friends – it’s just that the latter tend to enjoy it less when they find themselves on the outside looking in; when they are ‘them’, rather than ‘us’ in the nationalist dynamic.

‘We want our country back!’ chanted the Brexiteers; well, funnily enough, the Scottish do too

It was ludicrous to the Brexit camp that the EU should be able to impose its laws on the UK (like that pesky one on capping banker bonuses that Osborne was so keen to get overturned). However, now that the SNP – following the same logic – argue that the Scottish should be able to decide for themselves on issues such as EU membership, they are just being silly and narrow-minded? It is this glaringly obvious (in my opinion anyway) irony that I find so ridiculous. This is what irritates me about May coming out to reassure the Scots that an independence referendum isn’t what they really want. If there eventually is a referendum on Scottish independence, it would be a terrible wasted opportunity for the SNP if they didn’t rally around the slogan ‘Vote leave, take control’ and shout down any economic forecast as ‘Project Fear’.

However, it is rather unlikely that there will be a Scottish referendum any time soon. And if we are to avoid one in the future, I really hope that those negotiating the terms of Brexit bear in mind that Scotland voted Remain and try and find the best possible solution for them. On top of being good for Scotland, this would also save Brexit politicians from having to try and – unironically – convince the Scottish public that they are better off not taking a leap into the unknown and leave the UK.

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