Wednesday, 10 July 2019

How would a clean Brexit affect Scottish independence?




It may be that we have reached a stage in Scotland where the whole debate about Scottish independence has gone beyond reason. Some people want independence come what may, just because they want it. There is a limit to the power of argument. People support political positions and then find reasons to justify them, not the other way round. But Scottish nationalism faces a greater challenge that most historical independence movements. It not only lacks the overwhelming majority that has usually been necessary for the emergence of new sovereign nation states, it lacks a majority at all.

It is for this reason that Scottish nationalists still need to try to persuade that relatively small percentage of the Scottish public who are undecided on independence or at least open to changing their minds. But this leads to a certain tension within Scottish nationalism, which the Brexit debate has made still more visible.


Who in Scotland is most likely to want Brexit? I strongly suspect more SNP supporters want Brexit than supporters of any other party. Scottish Conservatives are still relatively few in number and a good number are Remainers. Hard Left old-fashioned Labour supporters might think that the EU is a capitalist conspiracy designed to undermine the workers, but these people have been declining since their 70s peak. Liberal Democrats who support Brexit no doubt exist, but must be about as rare as Tories in the Labour Party.

Why do a significant number of SNP supporters want Brexit? Some do so because they think that it makes a second independence referendum more likely. They also hope that the anger some Scots feel about leaving the EU will mean they change their minds about independence. For this reason, an SNP Europhile might cynically support Brexit as a means to an end.

But a significant number of SNP supporters want Brexit because they see it as the condition for the possibility of Scotland becoming genuinely independent. The arguments for Brexit with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU are, after all, similar to the arguments for Scotland being independent from the UK. They are sovereignty arguments. 

The contradiction at the heart of official SNP policy of being opposed to rule by Westminster, but happy to be ruled by Brussels is obvious. If you so love being in a Union of European countries, why are you unhappy being in a Union of British ones? Scottish independence supporters may argue that the EU is a looser union than the UK and that Scotland could still be an independent sovereign nation state in the EU, but this doesn’t look like a good long-term bet. Ever closer union is liable to turn independence very quickly into independence in name only.

It is therefore reasonable for some SNP supporters to see Brexit as a stepping stone to genuine Scottish independence. The problem they face is the SNP’s official Europhile viewpoint exists for a reason.

The SNP offered the softest possible version of independence in 2014. They put forward a view that independence would be so close to remaining in the UK that we would hardly notice the difference. The argument went, so to speak, that Scotland would be Austria, while the other parts of the UK would be Germany. Crossing the border would be seamless. The currency would be the same. The EU rules and regulations would mean trade went on as normal and we could all live and work where we pleased.

But here is where Brexit makes the difference. If Germany were to leave the EU, then this would profoundly affect their fellow German speakers in Austria. Likewise, for Scotland, if the UK leaves the EU completely, then the idea that Scotland can have soft independence becomes untenable.

This is the dilemma for independence supporters. In order to win the argument they need the softest possible independence, but this depends not only on Scotland remaining in the EU, it depends on the UK remaining too. The problem for the SNP however is that they have no way of controlling how the other parts of the UK vote on Brexit.

It may be that a clean Brexit turns a certain number of Scottish Liberal Democrats and Labour supporters into independence supporters. Opinion polls may show a surge in support for the SNP, but they will still have to win the argument and if the UK completely separates from the EU that argument will be much, much harder to win. Hardcore independence supporters will be happy with hard independence both outside the EU and outside the UK, but Europhile Scots would have to recognise that if Scotland were in the EU while the UK was out, Scottish independence would be harder still.  There could be no pretence that life would go on in more or less the same way. The break with the other parts of the UK would wide and deep. This would be a hard independence and a very clean break.

Even after nearly one hundred years of independence the Irish economy is so intertwined with the UK that a clean Brexit will have severe consequences for trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, what would it do to an independent Scotland?


18 comments:

  1. A useful summary, despite the wildly inaccurate expression 'ruled by Brussels [sic]'. The short answer is that nobody knows what the exact outcome would be. That, presumably, is why the Government, unlike their opposite numbers in Whitehall, are proceeding with great caution.

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  2. I've been saying similar things since 1995, when a Canadian told me she did not want Quebec to secede from Canada as many thought unity was the best way to protect Canada against the encroachments of America. I knew what she meant when she said it. Everyone knows America is a powerful country politically and economically. I realised that argument could adapted for our use. Other Canadians have told me since that if Quebec had voted for independence, the English provinces either side of Quebec would have eventually become American states. I've maintained since 1995 that our unity was our greatest defence against the EU and further integration. If we are ever broken up, we will be subsumed into the the political aims of a United States of Europe. It would be very interesting to see how an independent Scotland would fit into this Franco-German dominated political union.

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    1. The reference to Canada and Québec is useful. Québec separatism arose for two reasons. The French language and those who spoke it suffered generations of discrimination and oppression. Educational and administrative policy and practice eradicated French over most of the country. What Pierre Levesque called'Option-Québec' appeared to more and more Québecois the only sensible way forward. The federalist response was to set about reversing generations of hostility to French. This was feasible because Canada has a feasible federal Constitution. Moreover, unlike the UK, (or Bismarck's Reich, or the USSR), it is not totally dominated by one constituent member outnumbering all the others put together. So far, the strategy seems to have worked, more or less.

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  3. Welcome back Effie, a fine piece and thought provoking comments from Simon and Graeme

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  4. The Nats are cock-a-hoop again. We're going to have Boris as PM, a likely hard brexit, and they're still on a high from their European election success (why oh why do the unionists in Scotland always f*ck themselves over by running a gazillion different parties against the cult?). Anyway, returning to the point - we've been here before. In June 2016 after the EU ref the nationalists were similarly buoyant. They were ecstatic, actually. Victory was apparently theirs - until, that is, the situation became normalised. I think this will always be a problem for the nats. But the time they get round to exploiting a crisis, it's no longer a crisis - it's daily life. People think "This isn't too bad. It's not as awful as I thought. There are also a few advantages to it. I'll stick with the new status quo". This is something they'll always be up against and they will always lose - unless life in Britain becomes so intolerable that a leap in the dark, blindfolded and near a sheer drop becomes preferable. I don't think Brexit will inflict such damage. But I hope the government stands ready to spend spend spend in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, to offset any deterioration in the economy. Borrow the money. Print it. Steal it. I don't care - just keep the economy moving and independence as the least preferable option.

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    1. Had to laugh. The positive case for the Union .... "Not as awful as I thought". :)

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    3. You don't need to be positive, you just need to be the least negative option. Also, positivity is often fake - remember "113 dollars a barrel"? :0)

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    4. Red,White and Blue Brexit......350M a week.....Not a single job will be lost due to Brexit...No one is threatening our place in the single market....

      If nothing else the car workers have got and are getting their choies in spades. The farmers will be next and I suspect once its starts to unravel then the fishermen will get theirs. All blames on the EU of course but no one will believe it really.

      Deep down all unionist/brexiteers are concerned this will be a plane crash.

      Now its just try and avoid a zombie apocalypse and it will be positive.

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    5. Bojo is a recruitment poster boy for independence, Scots hate that type. At least May sussed out eventually keep away and don't make it worse. Bojo is not that socially aware.

      11% at EU elections Aldo, no wonder you want to put it behind you...Remember the heady days of you saying Tories will cathc up and take over....

      You will be lucky to get a single seat in next GE in Scotland. Poll's are saying another wipeout.

      I'm less negative on Brexit now as its likely to kill the Tories and split the union, it will also skelp a few groups who have been constantly negative on self determination.

      Any farmer still supporting the union after a hard brexit will be certifiable. Farming in the UK is finished.

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    6. I'm guessing a hard Brexit isn't really possible RM. Parliament will overrule it somehow - perhaps even by toppling the government and holding a GE / putting in a multiparty coalition led by Corbyn. Forget prorogation, it can't be realistically pursued in this day and age. The courts will overrule it or the Queen will simply refuse to give her permission.

      As for Boris, I suspect he may well turn out to have the shortest premiership of all time. If he does a Theresa May and gets to November and we're still in the EU, it's over for him. You can't strut around like that and then fail to deliver. He'll be out on his arse. We'll then have a GE and the Tories and Brexit parties will murder each other. If Labour boxes clever enough, they can be the next government and more than likely just cancel the entire sorry saga. This would disincentivise independence (a socialist government and no Brexit).

      So, this has a long way to go yet. Virtually anything can happen. But hard Brexit still seems very unlikely.

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    7. for once i hope you are right.......plenty of remainers/soft brexiteers now saying hard brexit is possible. Rudd did her U turn to get a job on Sunday. Hopefully its all bluff.

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    8. People jockeying for position to sit in a cabinet that will rule over a pile of ashes!

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  5. Two things in particular occurs to me. Firstly, Euclid reminds us that parallel lines, produced to infinity, never meet. The parallel between Scotland and Austria is of near-astronomical remoteness.
    Secondly, the expression 'clean Brexit' is as palpable an oxymoron as 'glass hammer', 'British Restaurant', ,or 'Lord Archer'.

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  6. It's hard to see where the "negative case" FOR independence is. It tends to concentrate on a "can do" outlook for a country making its own decisions in its own best interests. It works well for ALL our small, independent neighbours after all. That's why the negative unionist arguments (increasingly all they've got) are becoming less and less effective as Scots get fed up being told they are not as competent as others. Eventually, they're just going to feel insulted and turn on you.

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    1. A lot in what you say. At the same time, the case for independence is strengthened further by the current thrust of British politics. Ever since 1979, internal policy has focussed on the dismantling of British society. And since 2016 (the centenary of the Easter Rising - a piquant thought) the UK's main foreign policy objective has been to render itself irrelevant.

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  7. A small point but one, I maintain, not without importance.
    Effie's map, illustrating the effects of a possible Scottish secession from the UK, displays the Isle of Man as part of the latter. It is not, of course, and never has been.

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