Brexit and Scottish Independence
What will the impact of a Leave vote next week have on Scotland? How will our constitutional future be affected? Over at the National Michael Gray attempted to answer the question while at Open Democracy Adam Ramsay did the same (‘9 Reasons Scotland is More Remain’).*
Both come to similar conclusions, that Scotland’s chances of re-ordering its relationship with Europe may be enhanced in the chaos that would ensue after a Brexit vote.
Gray writes: “Talk of a second referendum on independence has spun like a broken record, and skipped a number of important steps. Instead of a rush to a re-run post-Brexit, there would be chaos at Westminster and an immediate need to assert Scottish influence on the disaffiliation process.
The UK Government would invoke the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50. Legislation would then be passed at Westminster to begin the withdrawal process. David Cameron would surely resign. Negotiations begin. According to the treaty, the UK would formally exit the EU in two years’ time – 2018. Meanwhile, Scotland – having voted to Remain – would face a complex political and legal juncture. How can the government reflect the will of the people when its legal position (in the Scotland Acts and EU law) is inferior to that of the UK state?”
“Nicola Sturgeon will, immediately, seek permission from Holyrood to negotiate with the EU terms for Scotland to Remain. Where in the past, Brussels has refused to talk to the Scottish first minister, doing so in this context would be outrageous. There are, in theory at least, two ways in which Scotland could stay in the EU in this context. Either, we (and perhaps Northern Ireland and Gibraltar) could remain in both the EU and the UK despite England and Wales leaving. Denmark, after all, has three nations, one of which is in, and two of which (the Faroe Islands and Greenland) are out. Alternatively, Scotland could hold a second referendum on independence. If the the Scottish government and the EU can find a way to make the former option possible – which probably a) depends upon the rest of the UK remaining in the common market and b) requires the agreement of Westminster – then my instinct is that both sides would go for it. For the EU, it saves face. For Sturgeon, it’s less risky than a second referendum, and is a further step towards independence.”
These scenarios are alluring and they might be feasible depending on how circumstances play out. But I’m less optimistic for two reasons.
The process seems to be giving new life to the right and the far-right and a Brexit victory would inevitably embolden the right-wing of the Conservative Party, give permission to barely restrained racism and unleash a new wave of populist Anglo-British Nationalism. Priti Patel and the ‘Britannia Unchained’ gang are at the very heart of the Tory Leave movement. They combine an extreme neoliberal deregulation agenda with a British Nationalist sensibility.
In these circumstances its highly unlikely that a victorious Tory government would give permission – or care – about Scotland or Scottish interests.
Gray suggests: “The Scottish Parliament could refuse legislative consent to Westminster dictating the negotiations. Similar to legal squabbles in Catalonia, this would heighten constitutional divisions where there is a clear popular mandate. Would the UK Government then “discipline” the devolved parliament with all the resulting authoritarian overtones? Brexit would not just be a British phenomenon. It has consequences for the entire continent. Other populist movements will seek their own plebiscites – invoking fear at the heart of the EU project. In Paris, Berlin, Strasbourg and Brussels leaders will seek stability. An immediate task for all Scottish politicians in the event of a Brexit is to take advantage of this with a diplomatic case for special treatment from EU institutions. Nicola Sturgeon should be on the phone to European capitals making it very clear that the Scottish Government will play an active role in discussing the referendum aftermath. She would have a democratic mandate, albeit not the legal recognition of a member state.”
My fear is that – as in the currency debate over Panama – Scotland citing Greenland as a precedent would be rubbished in the same vein: ‘So you want Scotland to be like Greenland!’.
The second point is that the economic and political consequences of a Brexit may be so dire that there is very little of any worth for Scotland to demand to be part of. If you read the more apocalyptic soundings on the knock-on effects of a British exit, including the collapse of the euro and the unfolding of the European project are predicted by many.
This ‘captive state’ theory is pessimistic, but is based on observing how the British elite views Scotland, and post-indyref how they view the constitutional settlement. Reality bight: hey view us with contempt and they view the constitutional settlement as settled and conclusive. They won’t have any argument other than this EU referendum was a pan-UK plebiscite and will simply ignore arguments that challenge this on moral or democratic grounds. I think both Gray and Ramsay also over-estimate the extent to which the European institutions will recognise Scotland as a body.
I could be wrong. I hope I am.
But as Nigel Farage floats up the Thames doing battle with Bob Geldof the debate seems to have descended into a Carry On remake- set in some dystopian future we have the misfortune to actually be living through – the idea of some rational and reasonable bargaining seems remote.
It may not be a straightforward result. As Irvine Welsh tweeted today: “A narrow ‘remain’ vote ossifies Europe/immigration as the governing narrative of politics in England, as it did independence in Scotland.”
- I’m not buying Adam’s argument about different legal codes – but the rest of it is spot-on