Yesterday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made her much anticipated announcement that she intends to hold another referendum on independence in either autumn 2018 or early spring 2019. I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, but I thought some readers from outwith Scotland may like to hear my views on why this referendum is necessary.
This post is rather an attempt to explain why another referendum is so necessary. The one word answer is Brexit. It may be hard for people not living in Scotland to realise just how much of a divide there is between Scottish opinion and English and Welsh opinion on the EU. In last year’s EU referendum 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. This figure is almost certainly lower than the actual numbers who support membership of the EU. In Scotland 16-17 year olds can vote as can EU nationals. But they could not vote in the EU referendum, as Westminster set the terms for eligibility to vote.
All the evidence from polling is that these two groups are very strongly in favour of remaining in the EU. Both groups will of course be able to vote in the next Scottish independence referendum. So it is most likely that it is not 62% of Scottish voters who want to remain in the EU, but closer to 70%. Yet this very large majority is to be completely ignored by the UK government. A government which has made it crystal clear that there will no exceptions to a clean, hard UK Brexit.
Of course in 2014 a majority of voters in Scotland voted, 55% – 445% to stay in the UK. However at that time the UK was in the EU and a major plank of the NO campaign was that only by voting to stay in the UK could Scotland remain in the EU.
So we have in effect two mutually exclusive majorities in Scotland. In 2014 a majority for staying in the UK and in 2016 a majority for remaining in the EU. But Scotland can no longer have both. If we want to stay in the UK we have to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK. On the other hand if we want to remain in the EU, we will have to leave the UK.
For many people in Scotland this will be a difficult choice. A choice not of their own making. A choice that has been imposed on them by a UK government that has only one MP elected in Scotland and a government that has shown zero interest in reaching a compromise with the Scottish government.
The only democratic way out of this impasse is another referendum. There is a majority in the Scottish parliament in favour of another referendum, made up of the Greens and the SNP. Both parties made it clear in their manifestoes in 2016 that a Brexit imposed on Scotland against the wishes of voters in Scotland would be justification for another independence referendum.
For this referendum to have any sense it needs to take place before the UK has formally left the EU.This would ensure a smooth transition for Scotland to full EU membership. Which points to autumn 2018 or spring 2019 at the latest. By then we will all know the broad outline of whatever Brexit deal the UK government has managed to reach with the EU. All the Ts may not be crossed but enough will be known by then to enable voters in Scotland to make an informed choice.
The ball is now firmly in hands of Theresa May. To reject the referendum would be an affront to democracy. To try and postpone the referendum until after the UK has exited the EU would be nothing more than an attempt to punish Scotland. The only reason there will be another referendum is to avoid Scotland leaving the EU. So the referendum has to take place before Brexit has been consumated.
This is a referendum that has been made in Westminster and specifically by the Tory party in England. Without Brexit there would be no second referendum, certainly not in the near future. It is not only people in Scotland who now have to seriously rethink our position regards the UK, but people in Northern Ireland now face a similar choice. There of course the alternative to Brexit is unification with the Republic of Ireland.
Remember all this is the result of the Tory party putting their own party interests above everything else. What an irony it would be if it turns out that it is the Conservative and Unionist party which presides over the demise of the UK.