Weak Idea & Weaker Arguments: The SNP and a Second Independence Referendum

With the seemingly ever present issue of Scottish independence bursting its way back into the mainstream political discourse, now that the dust is settling on the debates of Trump and Brexit, it is probably for the best to re-examine the calls for another referendum and their legitimacy. The most recent spark to this sensitive discussion has come from the tightly contested ‘Brexit’ referendum, that has become a particularly sore issue in Scotland with 62% of the country voting to remain. This made Scotland the most pro-remain region of the UK, and has been the basis for the SNP’s calls for a second referendum, led by Nicola Sturgeon who claims that the will of the Scottish people is being ignored in the Brexit negotiations.

However, the questions of consistency and principle should be examined when looking at the previous Yes campaign’s promises and arguments. The most glaringly obvious of these is the argument of sovereignty. For the SNP, the idea of self-determination and devolving of power to Scotland was a driving force in the 2014 campaign, which seems in many ways contradictory to the intentions of the SNP, who seem to want to maintain political union with Brussels. The idea of self-determination doesn’t seem to fit this narrative all that well, considering that the current situation for the whole of the UK is that 13% of all laws come directly from the EU, with the total leaping up to 65% when regulations are taken into consideration. This coupled with the fact that the SNP are currently the third largest party in the House of Commons, making them a considerable voting bloc, whilst also having their own parliament with many legislative areas outside the reach of Westminster.

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From a more economic standpoint, the main rallying cry from the Yes campaign was that the abundance of North Sea oil would be a solid base upon which to build an independent Scotland’s economy. However, disregarding any English legal claims to that oil, the fact that almost right on cue following the referendum of 2014 oil prices fell by 40%, demonstrated to the people of Scotland the volatility of such a plan. Furthermore, basing a small economy like Scotland’s solely on a small amount of oil, that they might not even have exclusive legal access to, should be an idea that immediately sends alarm bells ringing when considering the volatility of many other countries that do the same. The reason countries such as Venezuela are constantly on the brink of societal collapse are because of an overreliance on oil that is not cost-effective in a globalised economy.

Staying with the economy, a further look into the idea of Scottish nationalists using EU membership as a driving force behind their renewed push for independence will yield some uncomfortable truths. The most damaging of these should be the most obvious; that an independent Scotland is NOT guaranteed membership of the EU. It would still have to meet the same entry criteria that many potential new members must meet, and join the back of an ever-growing queue. Although this might not deter the more ardent nationalists in Scotland, it is certainly worth remembering that the events of ‘Brexit’ have done more than just threaten the external legitimacy of the EU. They have also ground the EU’s aims of expansion to a complete halt.

With a whole host of prospective members of the EU now frozen out with their chances of joining constantly diminishing, it is unlikely they would take to kindly to the idea of Scotland jumping the queue, with no real valid reason. Many Balkans countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and even Serbia are all looking to join the failing super-state of the EU, and are doomed to failure despite years of attempting to meet EU entry standards. Joining the back of this long line of countries will only be the first hurdle Scotland has to overcome. Although there has been a plea from Brussels to expand the EU to include many of these countries, many of the larger EU member states are adamant the union cannot afford this expansion.

If by some miracle Scotland was successful in gaining independence and re-joining the EU, it would have to contend with the same issues and regulations that could stifle economic growth – something that led many in England to vote leave. Most recently the news that North Sea Haddock has been moved of the sustainable fishing list seems to signal the impending restrictions on fishing that the EU will continue to enforce. Whilst many in the Scottish fishing industry have sought to reassure people that this will not happen, history is not on the side of fishermen, whom even in Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU.

Whilst the Yes campaign must contend with a complete overhaul of their strategy and talking points if a referendum is called, the No vote can more or less stick to the same campaign arguments as in 2014. The threat of massive unemployment in the shipping and defence industries is still very much real, as the relocation of the ‘Trident’ nuclear program will be inevitable. Furthermore, the boost to the English economy at the expense of Scotland’s will be evident when the jobs in the ship building industry that left Portsmouth for Scotland in the 1980s return. Leading to a boom in employment along England’s south coast. The loss of the pound will also leave Scotland vulnerable to the harsh currency markets, as they struggle their way through a messy divorce process that will see them lose more than just a few CDs and the dog.

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A more sensible strategy, now that Brexit proceedings are on the cusp of being initiated, would be to – at the very least – wait it out and see how things go. Even if the Yes campaign wants to have some form of well-structured argument, it is in their interests to at least let the proceedings of the Brexit negotiations play out. If things work out well, then there would be no real point of Scotland becoming independent, and if the SNP really do care about the wellbeing of Scotland they would welcome this. Alternatively, if Britain’s economy does collapse, they could use that as legitimacy for the second referendum, rather than relying on fearmongering and speculation.


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