Arc of Prosperity

Scottish Independence within the EU – with a Scandinavian Slant


We’re about to miss the boat

harbor boat photo
The most recent article on Random Public Journal has a paragraph that could have been written about me (although I expect he probably had somebody else in mind):

On Hogmanay a friend, an independentista podcaster, […] told me that a mutual friend, a fellow blogger, was in the doldrums. As you will well know, bouts of depression – as in the low ebbing of optimism – are par for the course in political activism. Our friend is “losing faith.” He’s finding it hard to believe Nicola Sturgeon will call an independence referendum. It wouldn’t comfort him to say that we will have independence, but that that might take a while. It has taken long enough.

Why am I finding it hard to believe Nicola Sturgeon will call a new independence referendum?

Although I’m finding it quite plausible that Nicola Sturgeon will try again to gain Westminster’s approval of a new independence referendum soon, I worry that she won’t try anything else if they refuse again (and why wouldn’t they?). She’ll just tell us all to work twice as hard to improve the support for independence in the opinion polls, or perhaps she’ll say we need a stronger mandate in the next elections for Westminster or Holyrood. She won’t tell us, however, why either of those things would make the Unionists agree to a new independence referendum. Two years ago, when Theresa May said “Now is not the time” for the first time, there was clearly a lot of apprehension in the air – the Tories were worried something bad was about to happen – but ever since they’ve been immensely relieved and they now think this is the right approach. More popular support for independence or a more strongly worded manifesto will not make them change their minds now.

I’m not in favour of UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) – it would be a disaster. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot somehow convince Westminster that Scottish independence is in their interest, too. I’m starting to think, however, that doing so will require disrupting Westminster, campaigns of civil disobedience, and other peaceful means to make them understand that Scotland cannot be governed without the consent of the Scottish people, and I worry that Nicola Sturgeon isn’t the right kind of person for that. She would have been a great first prime minister after independence, steadying the ship and reassuring other countries that an independent Scotland would be a trustworthy member of the internal community, but I’m not sure this is her kind of fight.

She has consistently tried to negotiate with the UK, and doing her best to include her in the Brexit negotiations, but they’ve completely blanked her. Scotland isn’t mentioned at all in the Withdrawal Agreement, and she hasn’t achieved anything by putting a new independence referendum on the back burner.

I’m also worried we’re out of time. During the first independence referendum, my guess was that the Scotland would move straight from being part of the UK to some sort of pre-accession status with the EU that would allow us to remain in the Customs Union and the Internal Market while the membership details got sorted out. Just after the Brexit referendum, I thought the plan was for Scotland to become independent during the negotiations so that we would join the EU on the day the UK left the Union.

It’s now looking very difficult to achieve that. If it’s a No-deal Brexit, Scotland will be fully outwith the EU in less than three months’ time, and unless the UK quickly rejoins, that means that an independent Scotland will have to spend some time implementing the Acquis Communautaire (the body of EU laws and regulations) after leaving the UK. That will be a very tough ride indeed. If it’s May’s Deal (and that’s realistically the only alternative to a No-deal Brexit unless it gets cancelled altogether), Scotland needs to have fully left the UK by the end of transition (which could be as early as 31st December 2020 – less than two years from now) to avoid that fate. Is it really possible to legislate for a new referendum, hold it, negotiate independence and implement it that quickly? I must admit I have my doubts.

I know many people think independence will follow easily after a No-deal Brexit disaster. I’m not so sure. Although people will be very upset, a lot of the painful decisions following it will have to be implemented by the Scottish Government, and that could create a lot of grievances against the SNP. And I do worry that the process of cutting yourself lose from a country outwith the EU and then joining the EU (or EFTA) will be much harder than most people think, and that’ll get milked for everything it’s worth by Better Together II.

So I’m afraid we’re about to miss the boat – if we haven’t already missed it. It’s such a wasted opportunity. All of the EU were mightily impressed by Scotland’s huge Remain vote, and we would have been welcomed with open arms if we had held the new independence referendum during the past year. By sitting on our hands, we have now signalled to them that we’d rather go down with the Titanic. What a shame!

5 thoughts on “We’re about to miss the boat

  • “… if we had held the new independence referendum during the past year …” An what if that had been lost? Was there ever any convincing evidence that it could have been won? I’m sure the SNP stratagists have access to infomation regarding that which you don’t. Without it being clear how Brexit will pan out–that is currently anyone’s guess–it it impossible to be clear about how independence will pan out. Without clarity it may prove difficult to convince the switherers–better ther devil you know …

    • Honestly I’m pretty sick of the voices pushing for a too-early referendum at a time when we are guaranteed to lose it. I’m glad cooler heads are actually in charge.

  • Can I cheer you up? I’m going to have a go.

    The time it will take to implement the Acquis is almost unaffected by the state of Brexit. Most of the work is at an institutional level – Scotland does not have the institutions or legislation to uphold the Acquis because most of this is done by UK institutions and law. We need to set up our institutions and courts and statutes and then engineer them to be EU-compliant. We need to do that anyway, no matter what happens to Brexit.

    People will be yelling at me by now that if the UK diverges from the EU then it will be harder for an independent Scotland to be compliant with EU requirements. Will Scottish businesses and courts and councils need to diverge from EU law to whatever Brexity nonsense replaces it and then realign once more with EU law? Yes, that would make it somewhat harder but we need to think about the timelines of that divergence from EU law. Let’s assume that the Withdrawal Agreement is passed into UK law (I think it will and I’ll get back to that later). The UK is bound by EU law for 21 months with a possibility of a further 2 year extension. The senior players here all believe that the full 3.75 years provided by the Withdrawal Agreement will be consumed. The UK (and Scotland) will remain fully compliant with almost all aspects of EU for the next 4 years, if we include the remaining 3 months of membership.

    People will now be yellling that I’m basing my optimism on the UK passing the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill into UK law. Despite what everyone says, I believe this is the most likely outcome.

    a) there is no appetite for no-deal at Westminster
    b) a 2nd referendum requires the government to introduce legislation
    c) no conservative leader could introduce legislation for a 2nd referendum and survive the party turmoil that would commence
    d) the next conservative leader would not introduce legislation for a 2nd referendum, having seen what happened to the last
    e) Corbyn cannot become PM without another election that he wins
    f) Labour do not look like winners
    g) Corbyn has no appetite for a 2nd referendum, remains fully committed to Brexit
    h) time is running to have a general election
    i) a x-party coalition that would take control seems unlikely, albeit desirable and sensible.

    All it takes is for the EU to issue a Heads of Agreement laying out a legal interpretation of the NI backstop and Corbyn will have enough to hand on his hat on and whip to abstain at the 2nd or 3rd attempt at pushing WA through Westminster.

    If I’m right, then we have 4 years in which to achieve independence. The holding pen of pre-accession status is very much back in play, assuming we can make headway with independence inside 4 years.

    I’ve still not dealt with the gloomy air that surrounds the democratic path to independence. We have more time than we might think but is any amount of time enough? How do we make that Section 30 happen? I honestly don’t know but it’s true to say that the First Minister hasn’t really done all that much so far to achieve one. There is still plenty of mileage in diplomacy and horse-trading. So much of indy twitter propagates the idea that we’ve run out of road but the amount of road available remains wholly untested. There is plenty of scope for a positive outlook here.

    Can I finish on a note of despair? If no-deal Brexit happens then independence is doomed. I honestly don’t think it is practical if the UK completely diverges from the EU with no prospect of rowing back. rUK would be Scotland’s closest cultural, political, and economic partner. If we join the EU then we will be erecting barriers with our closest and most important neighbour. If we don’t join the EU then we will sink with the rest of the UK and independence will only give us smaller lifeboats. However, no-deal Brexit is so unlikely that I think we can discount it. We might heading to the cliff but it’s a bit like running on a bungee cord – powerful forces (mainly capital flight) will surely push us back from edge, the WA is the cushion. I said I was going to finish on a note of despair but I think I’ve just pulled us back from the brink.



  • Derick fae Yell

    It’s simpler and literally years faster for Scotland to join the EEA via EFTA. Also more likely to gain a Yes vote in the first place.

    I do not, of course, agree that we are missing any boat. Independence will come when there is a majority for it, not before.

    IF Brexit happens (tbc) then yes, Westminster will say “now is not the time”. This is entirely predictable. The question then is whether we hold a consultative poll IF the Greens support that. If they do then Supreme Court here we come for at least a year.

    No S30, no consultative poll, then we seek an unqualified mandate for a referendum in 2021. If Holyrood is denied then Westminster 2022 for a referendum mandate with no S30 required, or a direct move to Independence.

    I recognize this may not fit your personal situation, but long and grinding experience suggests that there are no shortcuts.

  • I swither between optimism and despair constantly, and I don’t agree with the confident “No Deal Brexit will never happen” ideas. In fact, the confidence it won’t really concerns me as it means, if it does happen, it will take most by surprise. You talked before, Thomas, about a fear the SNP simply hadn’t factored it in as a possibility. For this government and certainly for the hardline Brexiteers, taking everyone by surprise and thus scuppering all best laid plans which discount one outcome as “lunatic” may be the way they plan to “win” (in their heads).

    I strongly suspect the SNP have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the EU, and have various plans for how things will play out, and what happens next. But I’m also pretty sure not losing Scotland, and not allowing the pesky Jocks to undermine our negotiations involving their oil, fisheries etc is uppermost in the minds of UK ministers. For them, a “clean Brexit” where the EU is no longer involved in the UK at all may well look like a price worth paying to be able to silence Scotland and cut off our ties with the EU totally. And if it does, indeed, take everyone by surprise there will be no plan to deal with that. Brexit – of whatever type – also creates the additional problem of a border between Scotland and England, which few want and that will be used to the max by Better Together II.

    On the other hand, for Scotland to be neutered, people here have to be willing to allow that to happen. Post Brexit, powers will be taken back because that has to happen. Trade deals will need to be UK-wide, including health and education, as well as agriculture, oil etc. So for the Brexiteers and unionists to ultimately “win”, people in Scotland have to accept losing devolution. They’ll be losing it at the same time the UK is suffering the shit storm of Brexit, and for purposes which will not be good, eg privatisation of the NHS and opening it up to US corporations.

    May can say “no” to a S30 all she wants, but if there is real and genuine desire and pressure for independence, and potentially civil disobedience, there’s a limit to how far she can take that. Self determination is a right for countries, and our EU will understand at that point the democratic deficit that took us there, and how hard our SNP government worked for a better and saner outcome. In other words, they’ll understand at that point we’ve reached a last resort. That should open up more options, even as far as UDI (I don’t support that either, except as a very last resort, but think it should definitely be there as that).

    The problem for the SNP is that none of us have any clue (including, I think, the UK government) where this is headed, and most people have so far been in denial it’s happening at all, simply assuming it won’t. Holding another indyref when all it’s doing is piling uncertainty onto uncertainty probably wouldn’t have been the right thing to do either. It would likely have been lost. It’s critically important this time around to be able to offer a degree of certainty, ie “This is how we’ll stay in the EU/EFTA”; “This is our proposal for how to handle the border” (if it’s needed) etc.

    It’s just a horrible, nightmare of a situation for everyone. It’s awful for you and others in your situation, and the fact all the “no borders; no to nationalism” unionists aren’t up in arms about the way EU citizens have been treated speaks volumes about them and their hypocrisy. But it’s a nightmare for the SNP and Sturgeon as well, because the need for a real fight contrasts badly with the kind of politics the EU prefer and will support. Catalonia is fighting, but with zero support from the EU. So the fact Sturgeon looks like a sensible, EU type leader rather than a firebrand probably isn’t such a bad thing.


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