Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament voted by majority both for the government’s resolution to hold a second independence referendum, and for the Scottish Green Party’s amendment, that sixteen-to-eighteen-year-olds and EU citizens should be able to vote in the second independence referendum.
Labour, the Conservatives, and the Scottish LibDems all voted for Scotland to Brexit.
Today, Theresa May invokes Article 50, and the UK begins its two year departure from the EU. On Friday 29th March 2019, short of some fairly major political upheavals in the Conservative Party, the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union.
According to report, Theresa May believes that in eighteen months time, the UK’s Brexit deal will have been fully negotiated and voted on by the EU Parliament. Whether she is right or not in that assessment, we will certainly know by that time whether or not the UK is likely to have a Brexit deal, or if the UK is likely to leave the EU with nothing but unpaid debts and no deal at all.
No deal at all, means an end to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland: it means the the multiple essential agencies dealing with atomic energy, prescription-drugs regulation, etc, will cease to include the UK as from 29th March 2019 with certainly quite a gap before the UK can set up any replacement.
“No deal” means that millions of EU citizens currently legally resident in the UK, may become illegal aliens who can, if they refuse to leave their familes and homes when told to do so, quite lawfully be taken to centres such as Dungavel, locked up, and deported. “No deal” means the beginning of the end for the City of London as a financial centre: an end to the car industry in the UK: and all the food we import from the rest of the EU will become a lot more expensive.
Theresa May is likely to see as a “bad deal” any deal that includes requiring the UK to pay its full debts owed on leaving, and above all, a “bad deal” that requires the UK to be part of the Schengen Area or equivalent in freedom of movement.
But Scotland voted by majority to Remain in the EU. The only way this can be achieved, is for Scotland to become an independent country and rejoin the EU.
The second independence referendum for Scotland is likely to be held sometime in October or November 2018.
I voted No in 2014, believing that the SNP government had not properly thought through their plans for independence. I plan to vote Yes in 2018, or whenever the next independence referendum should take place.
I think Theresa May has three choices with regard to our independence referendum.
1. She can refuse to allow the referendum.
Holyrood could now begin the lengthy Scottish legislative process of a referendum bill. But without a Section 30 agreement, it would not be legally binding on Westminster.
What should be considered here is the honest factor of probably about a million Scots who just do not want there to be a second independence referendum. I base this not only on Mori and other polls indicating a rejection of a second referendum, but also on this petition, which, while it has been signed by people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, has also certainly been signed by over a hundred thousand Scots.
Supporters of a second independence referendum, of whom I am one, won’t get anywhere by pretending these people do not exist. What a referendum needs to be valid, is not just a Section 30 order: it’s a high turnout. The very best that May could hope for, would be that there wouldn’t be a high enough turnout: if Holyrood were to go ahead with the independence referendum without Section 30, the pro-Brexit parties, Conservatives and Labour and Scottish LibDems, could push not for a No vote, but for people not to vote. One reason 2014 was emphatic was the incredibly high turnout – 84.4%.
And if voter turnout dropped below 50%, no matter what the Yes majority was, that couldn’t be considered a binding result.
But Tory and Labour support for Brexit and opposition to a second independence referendum, could well backfire long term – Conservative highhandedness with Scotland where they have so little representation, has never gone down well, and Labour looks to be heading down the same road. If the Scottish government doesn’t hold the second independence referendum until Section 30 approval from Westminster is achieved, and this doesn’t happen until after 29th March 2019, so that Scotland votes for independence while enduring hard Brexit with the rest of the UK: that is a big gamble for Theresa May to take, assuming that what she wants is for Scotland once more to vote No to independence.
Of course May might just believe that everything will go perfectly with Brexit and enter into days of sunshine and roses.
2. Delay, delay, delay.
Theresa May can begin negotiations for Section 30 but take a lot of time over doing so. She can delay, insist on conditions, require a change of question, insist there have to be three options, insist the majority has to be above 60%, insist on the referendum happening at a date to suit the UK government, etc.
Even Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, affirmed last year that the UK government shouldn’t just block there being a second referendum: but delaying it may look like a good idea short term.
Indeed, this isn’t a bad option for Theresa May, except that at a time when the UK government will need all of its resources and then some to negotiate Brexit, unless the 2014 Section 30 order is simply duplicated, time and staff spent delaying over Section 30 negotiations is time and staff taken away from Brexit.
And if she pushes too hard on delaying the independence referendum, the result is the same as for option 1: if she fails, it’s option 3.
3. Agree to an independence referendum in autumn 2018
If Theresa May agrees to the referendum going ahead at the time and date set by the Scottish Government, then expect all of the Tory campaigning resources to be thrown at winning a No margin, however slight.
Further covert resources could be put to campaigning for those who are opposed to any independence referendum to show their opposition by not voting: the lower the turnout, the less valid the verdict.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Theresa May would be praying for the Queen to die either immediately before or on the day of the Scottish independence referendum itself.
A win for No puts May in a much stronger bargaining position and ends the prospect of another independence referendum for at least a full generation, no matter what constitutional changes end up getting dumped on us by Brexit.
But support for independence in Scotland since the EU referendum is stronger than before the 2014 independence referendum.
Choices, choices, choices
I think that (3) is the most rational response, probably combined with some face-saving (1) and (2) posturing.
But I have no real confidence that Theresa May will choose the rational option.
A No majority, however slight, however achieved, in autumn 2018/spring 2019, would be a terrific boost for Theresa May in the final push towards the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of March 2019. A Yes vote then would be a huge blow. But any attempt to prevent or delay the referendum by means of (1) and (2) will ultimately cost the Tories much more.
Sure, it could be argued that independence for Scotland would benefit the Tories electorally and give them access to the EU market by transferring business to Scotland.
But they’re the Conservative and Unionist Party. They do, as a party, emphatically believe in holding on to the UK as a whole. It would have made even more demographic sense in 2014 for them to push for independence – they’d have had a narrow majority at Westminster in 2010 if not for the Scottish Labour MPs, and no one foresaw the SNP sweep in 2015.
This isn’t a pragmatic thing. Pragmatically, if/when Scotland is independent, I’m sure they’ll push to make a profit out of it: they’re Tories.
But they’re also unionists. Labour gets tagged as a “unionist” party and this isn’t really fair – Labour supported and led on devolution. The Tories opposed devolution and opposed the Scottish Parliament and will oppose independence – not pragmatically, but emotionally.
Yes, these Tories are very English. But they perceive themselves as British. They have an emotional/imperial attachment to the idea that Scotland belongs to the UK. They may be rude/insulting/racist about Scotland, Scots, Scottish government: that doesn’t mean they don’t feel entitled to own the whole country, including Scotland. (And Wales too, but that’s not an issue at the moment.)
They’ll never support Scottish independence, and they will campaign against it to the end. And think Donald Trump’s campaign and Vote Leave campaign: they won’t fight fair and they won’t fight openly.
Scare talk will include the UK government telling us decisively that the EU will never allow an independent Scotland to join (this isn’t true) The invented story that Spain would inevitably veto Scottish membership got such traction that it even made it into the New York Times, despite there being no actual word from the Spanish government ever confirming it.
— Pilar Fernandez (@pilaraymara) March 15, 2017
Other arguments include it not being “fair” to Scottish voters to have an independence referendum when they don’t know what they’re voting for: this from the supporters of the 23rd June 2016 referendum is more than ironic, but a specific example which is bound to be brought up is the currency.
The SNP’s plan in 2014 was for iScotland to keep using the UK pound and to petition to use Bank of England as a central bank – a foreign bank in another country. (I disagreed with this, and trust that the threat of Brexit has made them see sense.)
So there are two or three options, given iScotland has its own Central Bank:
1a iScotland makes use of the UK pound as its currency. Risky, even for a short period of time, because we have to assume rUK is a hostile government.
1b iScotland declares its own independent currency (which will probably be called “the pound” and be identified in currency listings as Scottish Pounds, etc).
2 iScotland joins the euro on joining the EU.
My assumption would be that the steps would be 1b on independence, followed by an agreement on iScotland’s own timetable to move to the euro. A new EU member has to agree to use the euro, but there’s no fixed timetable by which they mst do so – Croatia (July 2013) and Sweden (January 1995) have not yet done so.
You have just under three weeks left to sign the petition to the UK parliament to back a second Scottish independence referendum: it closes on 17th April.
Theresa May, today, at 1230:
“When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between. And yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.”