Paul Smith: Why it is now ‘when’ for independence no matter the scenario, not if


Freelance writer Paul Smith outlines why he thinks Scottish independence is now inevitable

BREXIT has happened, and Scotland now faces the possibility of being removed from the EU despite voting 62 per cent to remain. There also appears to be a huge surge in support for independence. So what now?

Whether a new independence referendum is called or not may ultimately depend upon what signals the EU sends to the Scottish Government in the coming weeks and months. These will be crucial in determining the likelihood of a referendum being called. The possibilities are broadly twofold.

1.) The slow split

A reverse Greenland has been proposed whereby Scotland (and possibly Gibraltar and Northern Ireland) would retain membership of the EU but remain part of the UK. 

In such a scenario it is possible that the current treaty the UK had pre-Brexit would still apply to these remaining states. This has positives and negatives for the independence cause. 

It shows a strong Scottish Government willing and capable of working on an international level – a government that has saved the day and defended the will of the people. This could also potentially create an economic boom for Scotland as financial institutions and businesses move north, again something the Scottish Government would take great praise for. 

Such an option would drive a further wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK and fundamentally undermine the union. Put simply, the countries would look so far apart that any future breakaway would seem less of a jump.

That said, trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK would then be on the terms of the new EU-UK deal, and Scotland trades vastly more with the UK than the EU. However, it seems inconceivable that if this option is available that the Scottish Government would not take it – as it is upholding the will of the electorate and for the reasons outlined.

2.) The quick split – but currency is key

Scotland is told that it must apply to be part of, or can automatically remain part of, the EU as an independent country. In such a scenario the question determining indyref 2 would be whether Scotland would have to adopt the Euro. 

If Scotland is told it must accept the Euro as an independent country then it is therefore unimaginable that indyref 2 would be called – it simply would not be won.

If Scotland is told that as an independent country it can apply to be an EU member state, retain pre-Brexit EU-UK treaties and would not have to adopt the Euro, then the chances of a second referendum are high.  

The timing, then, of indyref 2 simply depends on how much of a gamble the Scottish Government is willing to take and the circumstances that unfold in the near future. Here, though, lies danger for the pro-independence side. If the Scottish Government does go to the EU and is rebuked, or told it must apply as a new member state, adopt the Euro, or wait for a sizeable length of time, then the claim that "independence would have saved us from Brexit" falls flat. 

It is likely, then, that the huge swing seen in the last few days towards independence would dissipate, at least somewhat, so a new independence vote is not inevitable, and many bigger issues regarding the economy, and in particular currency, are likely to have a bigger pull on voters than Brexit.

For a huge number of Scots the more fundamental outcome from Brexit is not the removal from the EU itself but rather the undermining of Britishness as an identity with which one would wish to associate. 

This case of changing identity may be especially true for a large number of more affluent liberal Scots, in particular young liberal Scots from more affluent backgrounds, who were more hesitant towards independence in 2014. 

Think of Edinburgh, which was 61 per cent No in 2014 but 75 per cent Remain in 2016. Britishness, with its provincialism and "narrow nationalism" is simply now something that many people would rather not self-identify with.

A clear dividing line between progressive/regressive and nationalist/internationalist has been drawn, and Scotland and the UK are on completely different sides. In the years to come this may be more important for independence than what deal can be struck between Scotland and the EU in the weeks ahead.  

Brexit was the union’s last stand – independence is not if, but when.

Picture courtesy of Kyoshi Masamune

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