This article was first published on Huffington Post.
Nicola Sturgeon’s latest intervention in the EU referendum reveals the panic consuming the SNP’s leadership. Speaking during a campaign event for Remain on Tuesday, the SNP Leader claimed her party would enter “decisions and discussions” over the €uro if Britain pulls out of the European Union. This is a remarkable turnaround from claims she made only a couple of weeks ago during a town hall event organised by Facebook and BuzzFeed, when she insisted an independent Scotland would look to retain use of the £pound – regardless of EU membership. It is clear Sturgeon is completely unprepared for Brexit, instead betting on the conventional view that people may be inclined to back the status quo. It is also clear the SNP – as a party – is in a similar position to the Conservative party in England, with a considerable disconnect between its activists – many of whom support Leave – and its leadership which is staunchly Remain. It has been rather awkward for nationalists like Sturgeon to argue for Remain, when a Leave vote would grant greater powers to Holyrood. The truth is Sturgeon and the SNP’s leadership recognise the threat Brexit poses to their dreams of an independent Scotland.
There are several reasons why Brexit would make Scottish Independence less likely. Firstly it destroys the economic argument for an independent Scotland. In September 2014, when the SNP built its economic case for independence, it did so based on two main pillars: high oil prices and membership of the EU. The former would have ensured sufficient revenue to cover any break-up costs and allow the SNP to paint a rose-tinted view of an Independent Scotland being a land of milk and honey. Their argument on membership of the EU, on the other hand, was used to stress economic continuity and stability.
The first of these pillars, high oil prices, has already collapsed. Had Scotland gained Independence it would now be facing a £10bn-plus black hole. This would have required the SNP to cut spending by 18%, raise taxes by 21% or implement a mixture of the two. The SNP’s leadership has repeatedly refused to answer how they would have rectified this massive deficit, suggesting they had no realistic economic plan. It is undeniable that the fall in oil prices has seriously wounded the economic case for Scottish independence. Brexit would finish it off
During the Scottish referendum the SNP argued it did not matter if they left one union (the UK), as they could join another (the EU) – hardly ‘independence’! They batted away the warnings from EU leaders, who pointed out how Scotland would not automatically retain EU membership, and they would have to apply separately. The SNP confidently predicted a deal could be done which would speed up or even bypass the application process. Following Brexit, the focus of the British government and their European counterparts will be on the decoupling of the United Kingdom as a whole and the EU. Any potential new EU deal for an independent Scotland would have to wait until this was complete – and, of course, on the SNP convincing the Scots independence would be their best option.
Indeed it is highly likely a post-Brexit independent Scotland would face stricter terms to attain EU membership, which would include signing up to the €uro. Considering the problems engulfing the €urozone, this would hardly make an attractive proposition. Sturgeon’s suggestion on Tuesday shows there is recognition of this amongst the SNP’s leadership, who hope to use the prospect of forced €uro membership as a way to frighten their own supporters into backing Remain.
A second referendum on Scottish independence after Brexit would be centred on the prospect of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom in order to join the EU. We have seen throughout the course of this referendum how the Remain campaign has struggled to put forward a positive EU vision. The SNP would have to convince the Scottish electorate they would be better off leaving a union which they have been part of for three centuries, to join one which has barely lasted a sixth of that time. The question would ultimately come down to whether the majority of Scots see themselves as European or British.
Brexit will not lead to the swift collapse of the SNP, but it will seriously weaken their case. It does not make a second referendum on Scottish independence impossible, but it would make it far less likely. Nicola Sturgeon knows this, which is why she has become a major figure in the Remain campaign. At the moment the polls indicate the majority of Scots will not vote to leave the United Kingdom following Brexit. It is certainly likely the new direction the UK will take after leaving the EU will bring Scotland and England closer together. The process will remind voters of the great things the two countries have achieved together in the past, in a functional political union. This is what the SNP’s leadership fear – and why we must vote to Get Britain Out of the EU in order to ensure a Greater Britain for centuries to come.