Of course the SNP’s argument would be that indyref2 is justified because Brexit has changed the story; but does that really justify Scottish voters being subjected to yet another soul-sapping referendum before we even know what Brexit actually means?
It would be the worst sort of political opportunism to call indyref2 while Westminster is distracted with Brexit negotiations. The polls still suggest we’d vote No1, so surely we want Westminster focused exclusively on achieving the best possible Brexit deal for all of us in the UK? When those negotiations are completed and we know what Brexit actually means, then would be the time to take stock and ask the people of Scotland if they have the appetite for yet another referendum.
It’s not as if the SNP don’t have enough on their plates exercising the increased powers they now have. Our First Minister is undoubtedly a talented politician, but her party isn’t blessed with great depth in talent. My sense is that hard-working Scots would rather see the SNP’s scarce resources directed away from creating division and towards improving our lives here and now.
Nicola Sturgeon once famously said that her party’s obsession with independence “transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends”. This is really just a long-winded way of saying “independence or bust”. I believe her too. On the SNP’s watch our education system has declined from being one of the best in the world to being no more than average2. Hospital waiting times in the fully devolved Scottish NHS have risen3. Having been granted the tax powers to redistribute wealth more fairly and the welfare powers to top-up benefits for those hardest hit by austerity, the SNP have chosen inaction. This is what happens when you have a party governing Scotland who dismiss anything other than furthering the cause of separation as “passing political fads”.
But a leopard doesn’t change its spots and the SNP never knowingly miss an opportunity to stoke grievance if it helps them create division. Their relentlessly repeated assertion that Scotland is being “dragged out of the EU against our will” certainly strikes an emotional chord with many - but Scottish voter aren’t mugs. Most realise that sometimes having to accept the wider democratic will of the whole UK is a price worth paying for retaining the benefits of pooling and sharing with our closest neighbours.
Some claim the Brexit vote shows Scots are somehow emotionally closer to the EU than the UK, but that argument doesn’t withstand a moment’s analysis. The people of these islands quite clearly have more enduring historical, linguistic, cultural and economic bonds with each other than we do with our European cousins. The current dominance of the Tory party in England may be a concern for many, but the rise of populist right-wing movements in France and Holland is arguably a greater worry. Opposition parties may be in disarray, but political winds change and tides turn; decisions about the very existence of the UK should transcend party politics.
Whatever the reasons, the polls show that Brexit hasn’t been the game-changer the SNP clearly hoped it would be. Perhaps this is because Brexit has actually made the choice clearer. In an indyref2 the question would effectively be: do we choose to remain in the UK single market or hope to remain in the EU single market?
The economic case couldn’t be simpler. After over 40 years of free access to the EU market, Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are four times greater and still growing faster4. If we have to choose which side of any EU/UK trade barriers to be on, we surely have to choose the UK side.
In the UK we currently pay about £150 per person a year as members of the EU. In contrast, Scots are currently “paid” (receive an effective net fiscal transfer of) £1,700 per person a year as members of the UK5. This is money we’d immediately lose if we left, it’s a direct benefit of the on-going pooling and sharing the No vote guaranteed. The SNP’s White Paper on independence attempted to disguise this reality by making the hopelessly optimistic assumption that this year we’d generate £6.8 – 7.9bn of oil revenues to help plug that gap. We now know the actual number will be close to zero; they tried to sell us a pup.
Then there’s the practical question of when and under what conditions Scotland might actually join the EU if we leave the UK. Given we don’t have our own stable currency and run what in EU terms is called an “excessive deficit”, there are no guarantees. An independence referendum could well see Scotland end up outside the UK and outside the EU, further isolated in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world.
Leaving the EU may well be harmful to our economy, but Scotland leaving the UK wouldn’t fix it. Put simply: two wrongs don’t make a right.
1. See Scotland Decides
2. See Scottish Schools Drop in World Rankings
3. See ISD Scotland: Hospital Waiting TimesScotland's schools have recorded their worst ever performance in an international survey of pupils.Scotland's scores for maths, reading and science all declined in the latest set of Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) figures.It was the first time since the tests began in 2000 that all three subject areas were classed as "average", with none "above average".
4. See ESS data
5. for £150 EU membership cost/capita see Thoughts on EU Referendum
For £1,700 effective fiscal transfer see The £9bn Fiscal Transfer vs the £15bn Fiscal Deficit