Has Brexit made Scottish independence more likely?

This summer, British politics experienced  tumultuous times. The vote to leave the European Union was an unforeseen victory for the Leave side. David Cameron resigned, Jeremy Corbyn refused to resign and Theresa May became Prime Minister without a single vote being cast. If it left you yearning for simpler times, then look no further than the SNP conference, where you can party like its 2014.

The message was clear: following the Brexit result Scotland was on the road to Independence (again). In her speech, Nicola Sturgeon quietly dumped the 2014 result, claiming a new mandate had arisen out of Scotland’s Remain vote. Mentions of a second referendum unleashed a wave of euphoria across the hall; polite applause was replaced with rapturous cheering. Unlike the leadership, the rank-and-file members do not feign interest in governing the country as a whole. The promise to publish a ‘draft independence referendum bill for formal consultation’ is a rather miserly, insipid portion of red meat, but it was greeted hungrily.

It is not an inspired point to say that Scottish independence is the SNP’s raison d’etre, but their desperation reeks. The party is completely bereft of ideas. Their resounding victory at the General Election last year was followed by the loss of their majority at Holyrood. After an empty nine-year stint in Government, they have little legacy to be proud of. Despite Brexit not yet emerging from its chrysalis, the threat of a hard exit is their only chance for independence.

By refusing to divulge her plans, Theresa May is allowing her opponents to fill in the blanks. Not to mention that David Mundell’s part time role on the Brexit committee has provided more electricity to the grievance machine. Perhaps this oversight is tactical, pushing the SNP faster into a referendum they are certain to lose. However, Sturgeon should ask the former Prime Minister about the danger of offering a referendum for tactical purposes and taking the result for granted.

For opponents of independence there is plenty to cheer. Despite initial fears, Brexit will make independence less likely. The messy divorce from the EU will highlight the difficulty in untangling 40 years of shared history, let alone 300 years and it is now certain that Britain’s privileged membership would not await an independent Scotland. It should also be said that there is no free transfer of logic from the position of supporting a Scottish exit from the UK and opposing a British exit from the EU. The successful arguments made by SNP politicians in favour of Remain will be repackaged and used against their case for independence. Whilst the SNP still dominate Scottish politics, their coalition is fracturing. The resurgence of the Scottish Conservatives demonstrates the SNP’s vulnerability on their right flank. The charismatic Ruth Davidson could take her party to a pre-Thatcher era, where a number of Scottish constituencies were safe Tory seats.

The apparently left-wing Scotland has a centrist government and a centre right opposition. Nonetheless, parties such as RISE have been set-up to attack the SNP from their left. These parties are out of step with the country and could damage the credibility lent to independence by the SNP establishment.

Scotland has a history of voting for the status quo; it is highly likely they will do so again. A second referendum is inevitable, the moveable object of Nicola Sturgeon will not be able to resist the unstoppable force of her supporters. The opportunity for independence afforded by leaving the EU is virtually non-existent and, unfortunately for Sturgeon, the harder the Brexit, the harder it will be to win.

Image credit: FW42

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