Stephen McKee: Why we should pay attention to Sturgeon’s “common cause” with London remark


Is Nicola Sturgeon hinting that Scotland might continue EU membership without having to leave the UK? Political activist Stephen McKee explores

IN the rush to ask their pre-prepared questions about indyref2, journalists may have missed some important hints that Nicola Sturgeon laid before them.  In her clear and measured statement at Bute House, she made a series of comments that may have hinted that she has in place plans that do not need to await the outcome of a possible second independence referendum.

Drawing particular attention to the single market, the first minister said: "I intend to take all possible steps and explore all possible options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted – in other words to secure our continuing place in the EU, and in the single market in particular."

The assembled press focussed on this, referring to a future independent Scotland and the second referendum that Sturgeon said was now highly likely. But taken together with other comments, this may also be a hint that her team was already negotiating for the possibility of a devolved Scotland that, at least for a time, stays inside the EU even though the rest of the UK is outside of it.

This is not without precedent: although Denmark is in the EU, two of its 'home nations', the Faroe Islands and Greenland, are not.

"We will also be seeking direct discussions with the EU institutions and its member states including the earliest possible meeting with the president of the European Commission," Sturgeon indicated. While this on its own may be read as simply intended to reassure, it also contains the kernel of a strong signal that she was considering more than one option for Scotland.

The first minister stated: "I will also be communicating over the weekend with each EU member state to make clear that Scotland has voted to stay in the EU," before reiterating, "I intend to discuss all options for doing so." The only option the assembled press wanted to ask about was indyref2 despite Ms Sturgeon being quite clear that several options were being explored.

The London Connection

Scotland’s continued access to the single market may also have been at the root of the first minister’s comments about having spoken with London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Sturgeon made particular reference to London having voted to Remain, and that she had already spoken with Sadiq Khan about how best to work together in the mutual interests of London and Scotland. This seemingly went without notice, apparently taken as an unremarkable comment. In an otherwise measured and precisely worded address, its inclusion ought to have been noticed by more alert listeners.

She said: "I have also spoken this morning with Mayor Sadiq Khan and he is clear that he shares this objective for London, so there is clear common cause between us."

The nature of this "common cause" in negotiations with the EU and its member states is worth considering. Given that London is hardly expected to have its own independence referendum in order to allow it to stay in the EU, it may be that the first minister was signalling to British business that here was a way that they could retain access to the single market. 

There may in the near future be a time that Scotland, while still part of the UK, retains EU membership while the rest of the UK has already left or is about to leave. Scotland, Sturgeon may have been signalling, is therefore the doorway for UK business to the EU.

In the days and weeks to follow, Sturgeon’s address will no doubt be further examined for clues as to her intended direction.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Government

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