Tag Archives: Scottish independence

Renewed Scottish campaign to leave post-Brexit UK

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 4, 2017

 

In happier days, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In happier days, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greeted Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrived at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In these times of seething rage, it is increasingly likely that Britain’s divorce from the European Union will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.

As the parliament in Westminster completes the process of giving Prime Minister, Theresa May, authority to start the process of taking Britain out of the European Union, anger and resentment is intensifying in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Voters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland opted decisively to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum, but have been overruled by the dominant population of England. The unhappiness has been compounded as it has become clear that May is not going to try to fiddle some form of associate status with the EU and is heading for a complete separation, known to headline writers as a “hard Brexit.”

These glimpses of the road ahead have prompted the First Minister of Scotland’s regional government, Nicola Sturgeon, to say it is “highly likely” she will seek another referendum on Scottish independence. In the first referendum in 2014, Scottish voters decided by a narrow margin to remain in the United Kingdom, not least because that seemed at the time the best option for Scotland to stay in the EU. That equation collapsed when the overriding majority of disenchanted blue collar English voters chose Brexit in last June’s referendum.

The situation is particularly fraught in Northern Ireland, where Brexit could wreck the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, aimed at ending over 30 years of sectarian violence between British loyalist Protestants and Irish republican Catholics. An essential element in the confidence-building of the 1998 pact is the open border between Ulster and the Irish republic to the south under the umbrella of the EU.

The re-imposition of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and Eire will affect progress in demolishing community barriers. Northern Ireland’s economy will also be far more adversely affected by Brexit than other parts of Britain because of its dependence on EU agricultural subsidies. And there will be domestic political pressure on the Dublin government to interfere in Northern Irish affairs, thus likely inflaming the passions of Protestant Ulster loyalists.

The peace agreement is already tottering, with the collapse on January 16 of the province’s power-sharing executive joining the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party and the republican Sinn Fein. New elections were held on Friday, March 3, but early returns suggest there will be no clear result, and London may have to impose direct rule. That will set back the development of devolved self-government in Northern Ireland. Prolonged direct rule by London could well see the province stripped of the moderate political actors who have begun to mature during the two decades of peace.

Unlike in Scotland, however, there is no clear path by which Northern Ireland could maintain its desired relationship with the EU by, for example, opting to leave the UK and join the Irish Republic.

Sturgeon will set out her argument for a new Scottish independence referendum when she addresses her party’s annual meeting later this month. From what she has said and written already, it is evident Sturgeon will make at least three arguments.

One is that her Scottish National Party was elected to the provincial government in May last year (before the Brexit vote) on the understanding that it “should have the right to hold another referendum if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

It is unarguable that the June Brexit referendum result was just such a material change in circumstance.

Another argument is that Sturgeon claims Prime Minister May has not fulfilled her promise to only start the process of taking Britain out of the EU once a common approach had been agreed with the British regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Also, her party’s voter mandate includes a clear responsibility to keep Scotland within the EU, Sturgeon has said. “There are various ways in which Scotland’s place in the European Single Market could be maintained,” she wrote in a recent discussion paper.

“One option – in my view, the best option – is to become a full member of the EU as an independent country.”

It will be difficult for Theresa May to refuse to give the Scottish Parliament permission to hold another independence referendum. But the British Prime Minister is likely to insist that no referendum be held before the UK has left the EU. May doesn’t want to be campaigning in Scotland while she is battling out the future with Brussels.

The negotiations to take Britain out of the EU after 45 years as a member will take at least two years. That means no new referendum on Scottish independence will be held before 2019, and probably later than that.

The European world may well be a different place by that time. With anti-Brussels parties gaining significant influence throughout the EU, and conceivably taking power in Holland, France and Italy this year, the union could be a very different beast, and perhaps even a dead one, by the time the Scots get to vote again on independence.

Even if a new referendum were held now, it is touch-and-go whether Scots would opt to leave the UK. While 60 per cent of Scots opted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum, polls suggest they are not as committed to leaving the United Kingdom in order to stick with Europe. Recent public opinion surveys suggest there has been little change in public attitude since 2014, when 55 per cent of Scots decided to stay in the UK.

The economic arguments for Scotland to remain in the UK are compelling. But as we know from the Brexit vote itself, and tribal nationalist convulsions that are consuming the United States, Holland, France and elsewhere, measured economic judgements are not always voters’ main consideration.

The Scottish economy is in the doldrums, largely because of the slump in value of its North Sea oil reserves. And EU membership is not as great a direct economic benefit to Scotland as it is for North Ireland. As Scottish writer Alex Massie pointed out recently: “Membership of the UK single market is worth four times as much to Scotland as membership in the EU single market. In these circumstances only a fool would endorse independence.”

First Minister Sturgeon counters this argument by warning that Scotland faces tough economic times anyway, that the fall-out from Brexit will be as damaging to Scotland as the necessary austerities of the first years of independence.

“The case for full self-government ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends,” Sturgeon said recently.

And in this age of demagogy and resurgent tribal nationalism who is to say she is wrong?

 

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related from F&O archives:

Scotland Decided: what the experts said in 2014

In its independence referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 versus 45 per cent. An expert panel looks at what happened, and where it leaves the UK and Scotland.

Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide, September, 2014

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit, by Jonathan Manthorpe

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Scotland Decides ’14: Who won the TV debate?

The leaders of the rival campaigns in Scotland’s independence referendum battle have clashed in the first televised debate ahead of the September 18 poll. So, who came out on top?

By W David McCausland, University of Aberdeen and Neil Blain, University of Stirling, The Conversation

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Photo by Maria Navarro Sorolla, Creative Commons via Flickr

The live debate on Scottish independence between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling will undoubtedly kick start discussion around the country. But it was ultimately unsatisfying. Nothing in the way of new detail was revealed, and key questions remained unanswered.

On balance, Alastair Darling won on the night. He correctly identified the currency question as Salmond’s weak point, and repeatedly hammered him on that issue. Salmond provided no answers. There was no plan B. Even if the UK agreed to Scotland joining the pound, what this means is that Scotland would be handing over control of monetary policy to Westmister. George Osborne would be setting the interest rate that affects the mortgages and loan repayments of the Scottish people.

This would be an odd concept of independence, and constitutes one of the strangest contradictions of Salmond’s stance. Worse still, monetary union implies some degree of fiscal union. This makes the claims of being able to have an independent fiscal policy somewhat suspect. Seemingly everything rested on scrapping Trident, which though many may support, would be unable alone to deliver the kind of fiscal expenditure envisaged.

At the end of the day, Salmond made a strong case resting on Scottish people having control of their own destiny. This was a strategy to tug at the heart strings, but also looked very vulnerable to questions of detail. Salmond really needs to address these issues – particularly on currency – if he is not to be charged with sidestepping. What Darling needs to work on is a more positive vision, and a better explanation of how devo-max can deliver. Perhaps then future debates can hone in on important questions and elicit new answers, unfettered by a distracting studio audience.

Neil Blain, Professor of Communications, University of Stirling

So it’s not only Andy Murray having a wobble in the rankings. It was strange to see the First Minister’s serve so far off form. Bernard Ponsonby, the mediator, had to get off the umpire’s chair now and then to produce a decent match, by serving to Darling himself at some points in this debate. The umpire won in straight sets.

Whichever Yes for Scotland team member thought up jokes about driving on the right and space invasion should learn to let a script sit overnight and edit it in the morning over strong coffee. Salmond barely touched on what the Scottish electorate might want to say “No Thanks” to, if Scotland remains in the UK. The Yes campaign hasn’t learned the lesson of how negative campaigning works; a more urgent criticism than the No campaign’s negativity, which Alistair Darling embodied throughout. Although, on balance Darling performed more naturally than his opponent and was better on much of the detail.

But the dark, unexplored hinterland of how we might be “Better Together” with remains unlit. The Conservative Party’s drift even further to the right, with a third of English Tory voters favouring a governance pact with UKIP in 2015, never figured. The openly anti-European stance of powerful Tory figures like Philip Hammond got barely a mention. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson belonged as subjects of this debate, since they may be the political future we’re “together” with, but they didn’t show up.

London’s domination of our economic world didn’t get a mention, nor the vast resources spent on its infrastructure. The aims of the northern English cities to join hands across the Pennines may shove Scotland further down the Westminster pecking order. As a strategic consideration of the future, the debate barely got beyond the clichés which Salmond and Darling were supposed to avoid.

There was no detailed vision of the long term at all, which must have pushed the undecided more toward No than Yes. Both men were unsettled by the occasion, but the audience did well. And so did STV mainly, except for their failing livestream. Though the set looked a bit hand-knitted, and their first visit to the Spin Room so early on in the proceedings was daft. Not counting the moderator, I scored a win against expectations for Alistair Darling, on the question which won’t go away: it’s the currency. And we’re not stupid.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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