Few people will be surprised to learn that the Scottish Parliament has formally endorsed Nicola Sturgeon’s public call for a second independence referendum. By a vote of 69 to 59 in favour, the devolved assembly has added more pressure to Theresa May’s Conservative government, just a day before the highly anticipated triggering of Article 50. Although Westminster has dismissed calls for an early vote, this verdict will serve to reignite the fierce debates over Scotland’s constitutional status within the United Kingdom.
‘A once in a lifetime opportunity,’ the soundbite Alex Salmond and co were only too willing to proclaim as they dreamed up their Scottish utopia. A Scotland free from the chains of Westminster, rich off the abundance of North Sea oil and content to go it alone and make its own currency. A take it or leave it chance for the people of Scotland to terminate a political union that has endured for over three centuries.
Unfortunately for the SNP, the Scottish people did not share their fairy tale vision. The democratic verdict was conclusive. The highest turnout in British political history produced a resounding ‘no’ to the option of independence. One could be forgiven for thinking that the issue had been solved once and for all, at least for this generation. However, just three years on and independence is back on the agenda. Apparently one referendum isn’t enough, particularly when the result is not the one you wanted.
Brexit has been the gift that keeps on giving for Nicola Sturgeon. Scotland voting to remain in the EU has provided perfect ammunition for the nationalist cause. It has been masterfully employed by the SNP to portray an image of Westminster dragging a nation of Europhiles out of the single market. But the question on the ballot paper was clear. It asked the people of the United Kingdom if they wanted to leave the European Union. Scotland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom and it joins London and 48 percent of the population on the losing side. Therefore, a Scottish referendum has as much legitimacy as Sadiq Khan demanding a vote on London’s membership of Great Britain. If not less, given that London didn’t democratically reaffirm its British status in 2014.
May’s response should remain firm. During the process of EU negotiations there should be no referendum, and the terms of the future vote should be dictated by Westminster and not Holyrood. The choices should be made clear to the Scottish people and the blatant hypocrisies of the SNP exposed. The notion of immediate membership of the EU is a fantasy. All member states would have to ratify Scotland’s re-entry and Spain’s hostility is well documented. Furthermore, the process is extremely complicated and it would take years to complete. In the meantime, the political and economic consequences would be severe. Despite the SNP’s optimistic economic forecasts, the oil prices have tanked and the Scottish deficit has soared since the last referendum. Ultimately the Scottish taxpayer would bear the burden, and the benefits they currently enjoy such as subsidised education could be the first victims of life after the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon is a supreme opportunist; an astute stateswoman with the sole political objective of Scottish independence. Brexit has supplied her with ample ammunition to challenge number ten and she will become increasingly difficult to ignore. Another referendum looks inevitable, but it should be on Theresa May’s terms. The prime minister should be encouraged that Scotland has rejected independence before, and I believe given the opportunity it will do so again. However, so long as the SNP dominates Scottish politics, the issue will never truly be settled and Scotland’s status within the United Kingdom will be perpetually insecure.
Photograph: Ninian Reid via flickr.