Ian Swanson: SNP may not be ready for indyref 2

Jean-Claude Juncker and Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister has been holding talks with EU leaders to determine if Scotland has a future in the EU post-Brexit.
Jean-Claude Juncker and Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister has been holding talks with EU leaders to determine if Scotland has a future in the EU post-Brexit.
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THE Brexit result looks like prompting indyref2 but the major questions from the 2014 vote still remain unanswered, says Ian Swanson.

NICOLA Sturgeon wasted no time in seizing the initiative in the wake of the shock result in the EU referendum. With the defeated David Cameron announcing he was quitting and the victorious Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove effectively disappearing before spectacularly falling out, Ms Sturgeon seemed the only political leader living up to her responsibilities.

Within days of the vote, she was in Brussels putting Scotland’s case to senior EU figures and making clear to everyone that despite the referendum verdict her country wanted to stay in the EU.

She got a sympathetic hearing from several leading European politicians, but the prospects for Scotland being able to preserve existing relations with the EU while the rest of the UK pulls out do not look encouraging. One senior SNP source says: “Nicola is doing the right thing in pursuing these options, but in the end the EU is an organisation of member states and the only way Scotland can be in there is to become a state in its own right.”

The outcome of the referendum – the UK deciding to leave while Scotland voted strongly to remain – was exactly the scenario the SNP set out in its Holyrood manifesto earlier this year as an example of events that could bring about another independence referendum.

Up until now it has been clear Ms Sturgeon would not call a fresh independence vote unless she could be certain of winning it – and that was said to mean consistent 60 per cent Yes support in opinion polls for a sustained period.

But now a two-year timetable for UK withdrawal from the EU will be triggered in a few months – and the view is that if Scotland is to go for independence it must decide within that period.

So Ms Sturgeon looks like being pushed into having a second referendum before she is necessarily ready.

Many south of the Border take it for granted there will be a new vote and the result will be Yes. But the polls so far have not been quite so convincing. One did put support for independence at 59 per cent, but others have had it at 52 or 53 per cent. The anger and frustration felt in Scotland after the Brexit vote might have been expected to produce a more decisive shift in opinion and for the SNP there is now the risk that the anger could die down.

Some of the key questions which people felt were not answered during the last referendum campaign still remain, not least the question of what currency an independent Scotland would use. It is perhaps surprising, given that Ms Sturgeon herself acknowledged this as an issue that needed to be addressed, that more work has not been done to come up with better answers.

Opponents argue that the economic case for independence is now weaker than at the time of the 2014 referendum, citing falling oil prices as the most obvious concern. And they say that however unhappy Scots might be about quitting the EU, independence would mean leaving our biggest trading partner, England.

Nevertheless, the change in the whole mood of politics following the last referendum gives the Yes camp hope of victory next time.

Labour’s disarray at UK level could mean an unwelcome prolonged spell of Tory rule at Westminster.

And in contrast to 2014, when a vote against independence was seen as the safe alternative, next time both options – sticking with the UK outside the EU or staying in the EU without the UK – will be full of uncertainty.