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!