2007 - 2022

Brexit and Scottish Independence

Ck_eyi-WgAAo9fsWhat 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?”

Ck6ncqgWsAAtManAdam Ramsay comes to similar conclusions. He suggests that in the face of England voting Out and Scotland voting In, this is what would happen:

“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




Comments (17)

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  1. Bert Logan says:

    Well executed, missing only one key thing. What do we do with the media while still stuck with our crap BBC Scotland and the press controlled by Tory barons.

    Its not that the message will be easy for them, its the message for us will still be hard to get across to the ones we need to persuade.

  2. Crubag says:

    Scotland would need to have its own central bank and currency to be considered for membership


    Something the SNP either didn’t understand or chose to ignore – with calamitous results once Westminster called them out on it. Better thinking was needed.

    In the event of leaving the Union (European), I don’t think it would be a quick process, but Scotland would need to be organising and holding a referendum, winning it, exiting the UK AND THEN trying to qualify for EU Member State status. I think it would be a toss up as to whether Scotland would then end up spending a period outside the EU.

    1. c rober says:

      The state bank , or central bank which is nearly always private , is the question I have been asking since 2014 , after seeing that the ship was scuttled by the Westminster refusal of the pound , which is cutting off its own nose really.

      Every time I ask a question of a SNP politician on the subject , goggle eyed , shuffle to another off the shelf answer.

      Where this matters most is the ability to self finance , to bail out , to have a fekcing currency.

      Germany , as I am always posting , has a number of state banks , and not just the EU central bank it can and does call on.

      This is why Germany is such an economic powerhouse , that is both citing no state ownership for other members with industry , utils and banking , yet one only needs to check wiki for state owned in the EU. On doing that you see that from small percentages to wholly owned the state is still in control of billions , probably near trillions of German economy.

      Germany now has Eyes on Uk banking and investment , just a thought. German people in the majority are renters , with council and private at fixed rates , but council are the largest landlord by room numbers.

      SNP , nay all parties in Holyrood regardless of indy wants or not , need to push for a localised federal bank in Scotland. This can be achieved by making the Councils that central bank at local levels , financing them through selling housing , holding mortgages , and of course a Scottish Version of NSandI.

      We can sit back and look at Norway , like the Uk has its one foot in one foot out of the EU , with its wealth fund and cry into our muesli about what could have been , or we can do something else to empower the Country economically – outwith the feeding of Westminster and the South east economy. Anyone see the accidental admission by Cameron on Marr last week about the wealth of Norway , basically he admitted the wealth of Scotland in the process?

      First on that list of empowerment is housing , the status qou of ever increasing housing prices and unafordablility to the median wage earner whom are in the majority.

      The majority of workers wages is now being used to pay for a home or to rent one.

      We need to like Germany make private renting unprofitable through a similar rent locking system , opening up property to the markets as land lords sell off for what they can get before a loss.

      Today there is more than enough housing in Scotland to fill the need defined , and thats not including land banking with planning or derelict land/buildings , nor is it including the vast council estate clearances ordered by Westminster that enabled the housing shortage and created the lack of supply – thus HPI for the banks.

      By removing the wealth of banks , through a State bank at council level , holding the mortgages we solve three things at once.

      1.The councils planning housing that is affordable.Limitting the timespan to market of private developers to a one time only licence , in that if they fail to build the site in its entirity the planning is lost then purchased at a discount.
      2.Council become the mortgage holders , for the above , selling the land at cost to self builders , whom with current legislation can claim the vat back , meaning cheaper housing.
      3.They become over time the state bank , with lower interest rates for borrowers and higher for investors.

      And as a byproduct in an emergency the council can refinance , say in a flooding enviromental disaster , with loans based on the international markets based on loan and deposits.

      I know sounds like a pipe dream , but the single biggest wealth creator today is not industry , its housing.

      The value of housing in Scotland is worth many trillions , and lets not forget here its what also caused the financial crisis. Scotland industry well not worth so much.

      So lets remove that private banking wealth , to increase the personal wealth of people instead , through shorter mortgage terms via their biggest expenditure , thus more disposable income for increasing GDP or an earlier retirement.

  3. SkewedPerspective says:

    Surely we want Scotland to be like Denmark, it’s England that would be like Green (and pleasant) land in that analogy.

  4. old battle says:

    “THe UK Government would invoke the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50. Legislation would then be passed at Westminster to begin the withdrawal process” . So who will pass the enabling legislation? Where will the votes come from? The whole “leave” process will be tied up in a House riven with chaos- filled dissent. There is NO guarantee that the bide-in members ( from across at least four parties) will march into the Lobby to approve the exit legislation. The rump Brexit Tory Party would not command a majority in the Commons or the Lords. A motion of no confidence would bring down the ‘new” brexit Government. Within this chaos at Westminster, Nicola et al will require astute tactics to save Scotland from being sucked into the madness.

    1. MBC says:

      Good points! The parliament is 4:1 in favour of Remain. The UK constitution is the sovereignty of parliament. Not the sovereignty of the people. Clouds have silver linings, don’t they?

      1. Anton says:

        I believe that Michael Gove has said that in the event of Brexit the Lisbon Treaty should not be invoked as its rigidity would be an unsatisfactory framework for negotiations. Instead, the UK Government would apply to the EU to negotiate a more flexible basis for negotiations.

        Of course, we’ve no idea whether or how this might work, or whether the EU would agree, nor indeed whether Michael Gove was speaking on behalf of the Leave campaign or just for himself. As I recall, he suggested that in his scenario the UK would still be a member of the EU in 2020, but that his remarks were quickly suppressed by the Leave campaign for obvious reasons.

  5. johnny come lately says:

    IMO a narrow remain win, with Scotland getting the blame for it, would be the best and safest result:)

  6. Mark Crawford says:

    One important point – in the event, it will be critical that those of us (including Jim Sillars) who are pro-independence and pro-Brexit come out and say that we respect the result i.e. we respect the fact that our side lost in the referendum, because our unit of measure is Scotland, not the UK.

    After 2014, the unionists have banged on so much about “respecting the result” (which was always about reinforcing a pro-British, anti-Irish, anti-French, Hobbesian anti-radicalism), that it will be useful to turn this rhetoric against them.

    Second important point – if the EU, in a desperate move to prevent contagion, tries to make an example of England by punishing it economically, some independence supporters may waver and question the political value of joining an EU intent on doing damage to our English and Welsh cousins. No such wavering should be entertained. With the progressive majority in Scotland favouring independence, we can offer England and Wales more solidarity by splitting off to form a more coherent national entity and then use that voice within the EU to insist that preventing contagion will not justify the economic punishment of our neighbours.

    1. Crubag says:

      The UK is running a trade deficit with rEU – £13 billion in the last quarter. Given the state of even the core EU economies I think they will want to keep the markets open.

      For Scotland, the time frame for holding and winning a referendum (not a given) exiting the UK, creating our own institutions, and applying to join the EU is probably too long to make any difference to UK/EU negotiations

  7. MBC says:

    A few weeks ago Ruth Davidson claimed that only 16% of Scotland’s trade is with the EU; 60% of it is with the UK. (In Ireland, most of its trade is with the UK as well, which will mean that there will need to be some UK-Ireland treaty to ensure this remains free of tariffs, if that is allowable under EU rules? Potentially Ireland is exposed to a recession by Brexit). On that basis our trade is not likely to be affected much by Brexit. But for sure inward investment will be. However Scotland is a net recipient of structural funds, to the tune of 0.9 billion euros last year and we will lose that. The EU is a way of getting funding that London won’t cough up.

    It’s hard to calculate what will be the effect on Scotland of a Brexit, but for me the most frightening aspect is simply being trapped in a neocon nightmare as the likes of Gove, IDS, Boris, and Priti Patel more firmly in the saddle, and the loss of our EU citizenship rights.

  8. Dave Gordon says:

    If the UK vote to leave the EU – the referendum can just be ignored, it is not legally binding.
    If the Government decides to accept the ref result, they can pass the legislation without recourse to a vote within the House of Commons or indeed the House of Lords. This government has done that before.
    Whatever the result – Scotland will be shafted

  9. MBC says:

    Could the government just ignore the result if it is Brexit, on the grounds that it is not in the country’s best interests, and the Leave campaign presented a false prospectus?

  10. w.b.robertson says:

    re the comment by MBC …the UK Establishment can (and will) do anything it wants to maintain its grip. Might even suggest that we invade Poland…or Mars…

  11. David Allan says:

    Come on all of these scenarios are confusing and way beyond the competence level of the Ministers and officials of the present or any future Scottish Government . What about Spain ?

    The less complicated route to Independence –

    1 to have supported Brexit! and UK leave EU.
    2 Suffer continued Austerity at the hands of Tory Government.
    3 Build the case for Scottish Independence.
    4 Stand at next Westminster Election on an Indy Ref 2 Ticket .
    5 Win Independence and take our place on the world stage.

    Simples !

    And if the Scottish people post Independence express a desire to join a reformed more democratic EU then hold a referendum on that issue.

  12. Doubting Thomas says:

    What if the Scottish People vote to leave??
    Wee Nicola seems to be banking on them voting to remain in the face of a UK Brexit win.
    At the last referendum the Scottish People went off message after all.
    Will she need to resign if that happens again?

  13. goodgollymissmolly says:

    There is an assumption the Scottish Greens will back the SNP in this matter. Perhaps they will, but I can’t say Patrick and co. have been very visible lately. They certainly have not been touting the Brexit scenario as a reason for indyref2.
    Will they back a vote in Holyrood? If not then all the talk – and all the theories on how to “game” the EU referendum outcome – are irrelevant.
    The Greens are the link that can make or break indyref 2

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