General election: Why Scottish independence is not the answer to Brexit – Alex Cole-Hamilton

Nicola Sturgeon is determined to use the outcome of the general election to further her ultimate goal of independence, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 6:00 am
Nicola Sturgeon poses with the SNP election campaign bus, with the 'stop Brexit' message front and centre. Picture: Getty

I wasn’t expected to win my seat in Parliament. At one point, you could get odds of 65/1 on me winning Edinburgh Western in 2016 and a member of my ­campaign team took his family to ­Disney World on his Ladbrokes ­winnings. My victory was deemed to be a bit of a surprise.

American author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “History is merely a list of surprises, it can only prepare us to be surprised again.” There are very few days that you know are going to be historic before they’ve happened, but tomorrow is one of them and there will be surprises galore.

General elections are like that – there are always Portillo moments, unexpected wins or defeats, trends that weren’t picked up by the polls, the emergence of new personalities and the departure of respected grandees.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the LIb Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western

Nobody’s entirely sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it’s going to define our politics and our country for decades to come. We may leave the EU as a result, or we may (hope against hope) get an opportunity to turn the Brexit bus around. Anyone who has tuned in to UK politics these past five years would be a fool to tell you that they know exactly where all this lands.

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Despite all the twists and turns of the election results, there is one thing on which you can depend and that is the certainty that Nicola Sturgeon will paint any outcome as just cause for her to take another tilt at independence.

Three-and-a-half years ago, on the day after the Brexit referendum, the First Minister of Scotland marched up to a podium and told a press conference that the criteria for calling another independence referendum, laid out in her 2016 Holyrood ­manifesto, had been met.

Independence

The UK voting to leave the EU (while Scotland had not) was the change in circumstances that her party had suggested sufficient to ­trigger a new poll on separation. From that day to this, they have claimed this as a mandate for indyref2 and from that day to this, the First Minister has misappropriated my vote to remain in the EU as part of that mandate.

From that moment, she has seen Brexit as the means to achieving her life’s goal. Persuade enough No voters heartbroken by Brexit that independence represents a liferaft back into EU membership and you’re in business.

I have written several times in this column why that lifeboat is more than a little bit leaky. The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU requires new members to have a national deficit of three per cent but ours is seven per cent; new states need to have a stable and functioning currency and a lender of last resort. The proponents of ­independence have yet to answer any of these questions but hope that ardent Remainers won’t notice that – but they need to.

The promises of swift and seamless EU re-entry from the nationalist camp are as hollow as they are dangerous. We could spend the next ten years adrift of both unions and toiling in austerity to pay down our deficit to meet EU criteria. Independence is not the answer to Brexit.

But even if tomorrow’s election were to lead to a reversal of Brexit, then, according to Nicola, the ‘disrespect’ shown to Scotland by Westminster in recent years would be mandate enough to proceed.

The fact is that a change in wind direction would be enough reason for Nicola to call a second independence referendum, so don’t be surprised when she uses whatever historic surprises the election produces to do exactly that. Every vote for the SNP tomorrow will be used as justification for one thing and one thing alone.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.