At 5pm on Tuesday evening, after three days of debate and knowing it would mean a constitutional fight with Westminster, Scottish MSPs in Holyrood voted 69 to 59 for Nicola Sturgeon’s proposal for a second independence referendum by spring 2019. All 63 SNP MSPs and six Greens were in favour; the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were against.
For the following article, I have provided a synopsis of what the media had to say yesterday, when I wrote this article, on the subject. I have tried to paraphrase the coverage rather than just lifting out huge segments of text. I have tried to look at Scottish sources initially to give an alternative perspective on how the matter is being reported in the English press, which many of my readers will no doubt already have looked at.
On being interviewed after yesterday’s vote in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon said the following: ‘The mandate for a referendum is beyond question and it would be democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable to attempt to stand in the way of it’.
Tory sources have told The Glasgow Herald that they want to delay the issue of the Scottish referendum beyond 2021 (far later than Sturgeon has expressed). They hope that by this time, a pro-Union majority will have been elected in Holyrood, thereby killing off any chance of another referendum.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said that the UK government will decline the request for a second independence referendum in Scotland.
The minority Scottish Government won the vote thanks to support from the Scottish Greens. It also followed an extended debate which was delayed by a week due to last week’s Westminster terror attack.
A UK government spokeswoman said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that now is not the time for an independence referendum and we will not be entering into negotiations on the Scottish Government’s proposal…. At this point, all our focus should be on our negotiations with the European Union and in making sure we get the right deal for the whole of the UK’.
Prospect, it seems, are somewhat sceptical about the whole idea of a second independence referendum in Scotland although they can understand where Scotland are going from. They believe that it should come off the agenda until after Brexit negotiations are completed and not before. Here is what they had to say earlier today:
We can safely assume that Brexit will damage Scotland’s economy, especially with the Tories recklessly pursuing a hard Brexit, but we have no idea what that will look like in practice. The people of Scotland deserve clarity on exactly what they are being asked to vote on. So despite the vote forced through by the SNP and its ever-reliable allies in the Scottish Greens, I believe firmly that if there is to be another referendum on independence it should not take place until Britain has left the EU, at the very earliest. The UK and Scottish governments should not be distracted from the task of getting the best Brexit deal for Britain by endless, and no doubt acrimonious, negotiations over another independence referendum.
Of course if, after Brexit, the people of Scotland clearly want another referendum then it isn’t the job of the UK government to stand in the way. But as things stand, the clear will of the Scottish people is there should not be another referendum any time soon.
Brexit is bad for Scotland but leaving the UK would be catastrophic for families here. According to the SNP’s own figures, figures the Nationalists are now desperately trying to discredit, leaving the UK would mean an extra £15bn worth of cuts to Scotland’s schools and hospitals. That would be turbo-charged austerity, on top of the cuts already being imposed by the Tories today.
It is often claimed that the economic case for Scottish independence has worsened since 2014. The previous secession vote was held when oil cost $90 per barrel. At that time, independence advocates predicted it would go up in price, thereby bolstering Scotland’s revenues. Since then however, the opposite has happened and the oil price has almost halved. A big rebound is not on the cards.
A Scotland inside the EU but outside the UK would suffer an immediate trade shock: 63 percent of Scotland’s exports are to the UK and the country would struggle to be able to do an independent trade deal with its southern neighbour. It would also be impossible for Scotland as a prospective EU member to keep the pound sterling as its currency as it intended in 2014. At that time you will recall, the government in London told Scotland to abandon those expectations. Scotland therefore would probably have to adopt the euro which would lead to unpredictable and probably negative consequences to its competitiveness.
Reorienting an entire country’s economy toward a different export market like the EU, even if it’s much bigger than the old one, will be very traumatic for Scotland.
Oxford University economist Simon Wren-Lewis argues that in the long run, the pivot would benefit Scotland:
‘Imagine two parts of this island, one which has easy access to the huge market which is the EU and one which did not’.
I have cited his blog reference below should you wish to refer to it further so as not to take it out of context. The UK’s subsidies to Scotland are worth about $12 billion a year, according to Bloomberg. Government figures for 2015-2016 show that Scotland, with about 8.2 percent of the UK population, provides just 7.9 percent of its fiscal revenue. At the same time, Scotland spends more per capita than other areas of the UK because its population is older and more rural. The EU also subsidies Scotland (it subsidies Northern Ireland too). The largest of these subsidies are in the agricultural sector. The biggest EU transfer reached £613 million ($762 million) in 2015. As part of the UK, Scotland is a small net contributor, not a net recipient, of EU funds. For those of you like me who find it hard to understand economics but are a little too embarrassed to admit it, this means that the UK pay in more to the EU than they receive back, in this respect. It is not a comment on the other advantages that the UK gain in being a member of the EU.
So far, Brexit hasn’t increased Scottish support for independence. Scottish secessionists may call for an early vote but they’re probably praying silently for more time to let May shoot herself in the foot and to work on a new set of arguments they didn’t use in 2014. In light of the drop in oil price, they will need them.
London School of Economics Blog
I have lifted much of this but have also tried to summarise parts to lessen your reading time. The full article is of course cited below. As usual, some of my own comments are sandwiched in between words.
The Scottish referendum back in 2014 touched on a big question: that of nationality and independence. National identity is a particularly tricky factor to take account of and is not something about which people change their minds or hearts very easily. This ‘emotional’ element might partly explain why a YouGov poll taken in late July (after the referendum), showed that when given the binary choice, 54% of people opted for Scotland being in a UK outside the Single Market (a ‘hard’ Brexit) compared to 46% who favoured an independent Scotland within the Single Market.
Leaving the UK does not guarantee Scotland EU membership; at least not quickly and smoothly. Immediately following the Brexit referendum, Nicola Sturgeon sought EU support for Scotland remaining in the EU but ‘she drew a rebuff from Spain and a mixed response from European officials’. (This is unsurprising regarding Spain: support for a Scottish secession would have made it hard for them then to complain about a Catalan secession).
An second Scottish referendum on independence may well offer Scots the following two choices: (1) being outside the EU; and (2) being outside the UK and outside the EU: at least in the short to medium term.
The prospect of Scotland finding itself outside of both markets is an alarming one. Furthermore, the additional uncertainty of independence, coming off the back of the general uncertainty in European and global politics at present, could prove too daunting for some Scots.
Sean Swan, the writer of the LSE blog, makes the following points:
With all this said, however, support for independence does remain higher than it was during the first referendum vote back in 2014. Polls are polls but cannot always be relied on. If recent politics are anything to go by, we live in volatile and unpredictable times. The future is unwritten and Brexit is not the only issue that will shape the views of the Scottish voters. The extent to which the current polling reflects attitudes toward Brexit, as opposed to other factors such as the large drop in the oil price since 2014, is an open question. It remains to be seen how opinions will shift in the coming months.
What are the current polls saying in vis a vis support for a second independence referendum in Scotland?
Polls at the moment show that 37% of the Scottish electorate would vote yes to independence; 48% no and 16% don’t know. There were no abstainers. Polls are constantly updated and I have cited the source for this below.
My own personal views
In his blog for LSE, Sean Swan touched on the question of the extent to which a ‘European’ identity exists in Scotland. As a Scottish person myself, I very much value my Scottish identity, my British identity and my European identity so I understand Mr Swan when he states that ‘there are probably layered identities involved: ‘Scottish’, ‘British’ and ‘European’ identities at play’. I also understand very much his notion of ‘minds and hearts’ and how they relate to politics. Although I left Scotland when I was 7 years old, firstly for American shores and then for English ones, I have retained my passionate soul and my beliefs come very much from the heart, irrespective of what those beliefs relate to. For my part, irrespective of the fact that I very much empathise with the sense of dislocation from Westminster many people are experiencing in Scotland right now, I believe in unity: global unity, European unity and British unity. These beliefs have being threatened firstly with our decision, the UK as a whole, to leave Europe and secondly, the possibility of a second independence referendum that would pull Scotland away from England.
For me going forward, the most important issue is how to sever political ties with Europe in a friendly way in which we are still respected and seen as neighbours. Foreign Policy yesterday morning, (a US political blog and magazine that I subscribe to), quoted Donald Tusk as saying the following after Theresa May had formally submitted her desire to leave the EU formally, by letter:
‘This not a happy day in Brussels or London, but that this will serve to make the other 27 EU member states still more united. What can I add? [he concluded]. We already miss you’.
Commenting on the Scottish Nationalist agenda has been something that I have avoided until now, particularly given the relevancy of the subject in current affairs and the fact that I am Scottish. Many of my readers have requested that I write something on it but I have in fact desisted. Monday’s post/article on the Sturgeon and May meeting in Glasgow took a largely neutral stance and for a Scot therefore, a safe one. The matter is extremely divided in Scotland, even within my immediate and distant family. I have not lived in Scotland for many years and neither have my parents. As such, none of us were allowed to voice our opinions in the first referendum and should there be a second, it is doubtful that we will be allowed to express our views in that one other. For my immediate family, we opt for unity. For those further afield and those still living in Scotland, there are differing views. I understand them all and truly, I see both sides of the argument. Making my decision is a hard one: it’s like having children and disciplining them. It’s so much easier when they are not yours. As such, whilst I see the economic and political arguments for remaining within the UK, I also feel wholeheartedly the sense of Scottish dislocation and pride that is emanating from Scotland right now. I do not blame them for considering independence, I really do not. Westminster ignore us at your peril! Whilst easy going and humorous in nature, we are not a people to be walked all over. We have conviction and we do have a say.
This is what I wrote to another Scottish friend yesterday morning on e-mail who is also anti-independence and like me, lives in England:
‘I like to try to look at all the perspectives and I understand where the Scots come from emotionally. Very much so. So I heard their concerns. To be true, all of those who voted against leaving the EU in England stood up in arms at the decision at the time, do you remember? Now Scotland are just feeling the full brunt of that. Something is happening that they really didn’t vote for in a higher proportion than in England or any of the other devolved governments and I DO think that they need to be heard. I do not think that Theresa May has acted well AT ALL in this regard. Nor do many people in Westminster, if you read my article on Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit secretary, in the address he gave to Chatham House.
I briefly heard Ms May’s speech this afternoon on The World at 1 on Radio 4 and it DOES appear that she has taken the Labour party 6 point agenda into consideration for she covered many of those things in her speech and from what I heard it was a good one, although I have yet to listen to it in full.
The Herald (Glasgow), 29.3.17:
The Scotsman (Edinburgh), 29.3.17:
The Scottish ‘Green’ perspective:
Prospect magazine, 29.3.17:
Daily Record, (Glasgow), 29.3.17:
Sturgeon will put any further talk or action regarding the independence referendum on hold until after the Easter Break:
Bloomberg have their say on the pros and cons of Scottish independence, citing Ukraine as an example, 29.3.17:
LSE Blog, Sean Swan. This article referred to within the Bloomberg article above, where an academic is cited re the long term benefits Scotland would gain by remaining part of the EU’s single market:
Running Polls for those in favour of Scottish independence and those not:
Donald Tusk quoting in Foreign Policy, in receiving the UK’s Article 50 letter formally, 29.3.17:
Further Sources not referred to within article:
The Week, 29.3.17:
Some views from Scottish people living in Blackpool and what they think of independence – most do not seem to want it:
Simon Wren-Lewis, Oxford scholar cited in Bloomberg article:
Simon Wren-Lewis professional bio x 2 (both from Oxford university):
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I think you have been very fair to both sides considering your Scottish upbringing. I don’t think time is right for another referendum but Theresa May needs to listen to the people who elected her (not me)! She said in interview she was elected to get on with job but not in the autocratic way she is now adopting!