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Current expectation is that Article 50 will be triggered shortly and that Nicola Sturgeon will announce a second referendum at her spring conference. The SNP 2016 manifesto mandated a second referendum if there was evidence of clear and sustained majority support for independence or “a significant material change in circumstances” from those that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out the EU against our will.
Once Theresa May submits her formal notification of withdrawal from the EU that material change will have happened. It means that “the Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification.” Scotland voted 62 percent to remain and there has been no indication from Mrs May that Scotland’s wishes will be accommodated, despite the best efforts from our First Minister to negotiate in good faith.
SNP members attending the conference will be eagerly anticipating Nicola’s speech. Maybe, like the last conference, the stage will be invaded by octogenarians demanding the SNP leaves the EU (which Derek McKay handled with good humour and grace). Or perhaps Jim Sillars will come along to expound his fantasy vision of the UK getting a free trade deal with the EU upon leaving. You know, kind of like leaving your gym membership but still demanding you get to use the facilities for nothing.
Yes, the EU does have free trade deals with Canada and many other countries such as Chile, Mexico, Morocco, Albania, and is negotiating many more – with the US for example. Letting the UK leave with a free trade agreement however would open the flood gates to other countries potentially leaving the bloc, which would undermine the EU project itself. The UK is a net contributor to the EU, so why would it let us take our £8.5 billion (net) of a membership fee away whilst allowing us to continue to access the single market? Anyone who suggests such a scenario has taken leave of their senses, quite frankly.
Much discussion is being had by the SNP membership about when the best time to hold the referendum would be. Alex Salmond wrote in the Sunday Herald about the intransigence of the UK government’s position. About how their unwillingness to listen or compromise has led them to fighting a battle on three fronts: With the EU, with Scotland, and with Ireland. He writes, “Constitutional crises, like London buses, can come along all at once, or three at a time.” The UK Civil Service barely has the resources to fight on one front never mind three, holding our referendum during Brexit negotiations is to Scotland’s advantage.
People seem to have fixed upon a date in and around Autumn 2018 for the vote. The thinking behind this is that we will by then be in the final stages of the UK negotiating a deal (or not) with the EU. It still gives us six months to come in at the end of the negotiations with our independent nation state status and grab the legacy or continuing state membership of the EU vacated by the rUK. In this way Scotland never leaves and has our constitutional wish to remain in EU respected. It is also the best outcome for the EU, which will not want to negotiate a deal with the UK involving Scotland’s fisheries, agriculture, food and drink, energy etc. just to have to open that deal all up again. That would simply be inefficient.
Given the imperious arrogance of the British government’s approach to these negotiations and its previous form on such matters (Empire 1.0), it seems far more likely that European negotiators, once the UK’s belligerence makes them quite mad enough, will seek to adopt Scotland just to spite these petulant TORY fools. Mrs May has said “no deal is better than a bad deal.” This suggests the UK will walk away without settling its £60 billion debts to the EU. This would be a decent saving; given that the £8.5 billion (net) UK contribution has already been consumed by increased interest on debt repayment, due of course to the weakening of the pound.
Yet surely someone has told them that World Trade Organisation tariffs will cost the UK tens of billions per year and countless jobs and hardship for our economy? Who is going to pay all the agricultural and fishing subsidies when we leave in 2019? Who is going to pay to set up all the health and business regulatory offices? Who will pay and execute all the structural fund grants? Who will fund and monitor all the scientific research done under the EU banner? Too many unanswered questions.
Hopefully the Spring Conference will see Nicola Sturgeon confirm that a second independence referendum is no longer “likely” or “highly likely” but definitely happening. We can decide when later. Once the economy starts to nosedive and the omnishambles unfolds people will be converting to Yes in their droves. Scotland will welcome many new refugees from England looking to escape bigots and racism in favour of an open-minded international Scotland. And we will welcome them with open arms.
It will be clear to the fishermen that they were lied to; that their sector will be traded off for something important to England. It will become clear to the farmers that there is no plan to replace the Common Agricultural Policy with anything of benefit to them. It will become apparent that Brexit means the migrants our economy depends on will be deported and families torn apart. It will become evident that Scotland has a lifeboat to leave the sinking ship and the only sensible option is to jump in.
Theresa May will of course try to stop us leaving while she is negotiating leaving the EU. The instinct of the drowning man is always to pull you down with him. The newspapers say she will try to delay our EU referendum until 2021. We must not let this happen. Whilst we could of course negotiate our way back into the EU (and they would welcome us) we would be asking people to vote for independence during a time of utmost economic and political turmoil.
Whilst we are negotiating WTO tariffs, inflation, unemployment, poverty, and even possible unrest (I’ve not even mentioned the Irish situation) it would be a terrible time to ask the cautious Scot to vote for more change. Holding the vote before Brexit means we are asking people to vote for the status quo as a European member state, to save ourselves from this impending economic catastrophe – we will even get to inherit trade that England will lose when it leaves the EU.
The last hurdle then is if Theresa May refuses to consent to legislation in Westminster to enable our referendum. Despite this making her out to be a despot, it may happen. In this scenario we can then turn to our fundamental right to self-determination as a nation state in international law. We are protected by the Council of Europe and the United Nations and can’t be governed without our consent. We must be able to freely choose our international political status. We can be pretty sure the people of Scotland would be delighted to crowd fund a trip to Strasbourg for Mrs May to visit the European Court to have this confirmed.
The Butterfly Rebellion