In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, most sensible people believed the Tories had a plan. Not necessarily a good one, but at least some sort of idea of what they wanted to achieve.
It then dawned on the rest of us that they had absolutely no plan whatsoever, that the Leave campaign had consisted of nothing more than infinite amounts of hot air and wishful thinking.
We then all expected the Tories to formulate a plan and tell us about it. This is clearly what the EU negotiators still are expecting – they’ve lined up their team and their negotiating position, and they’re now waiting for the triggering of Article 50 and to hear what the UK wants to do. The Scottish Government also seems to be waiting to find out whether the Tory plan involves being part of the Internal Market and whether Scotland will have a formal rôle in the negotiations as promised.
However, what if they never clear things up? What if the various members of the UK government continue to contradict each other in public? What if they keep promising to listen to Scotland without ever doing so? What if it doesn’t become clear till the night before Brexit takes place what it actually entails? It could actually be deliberate – if you have a weak hand in negotiations, clarity helps your opponents, so the Tories might think maximum obfuscation is the best way to get a good deal.
So I think we have to brace ourselves for the possibility that we might not know whether post-Brexit England and Wales will be part of the Internal Market till the Tory negotiators emerge in the wee hours of the morning from a smoke-filled room in Brussels in early 2019. Until that point, they might very feasibly keep saying they want to restrict immigration while having full access to the Internal Market.
The problem for Scotland is that if our plan is to use continued Internal Market membership as the way to get a majority to vote Yes in the next independence referendum, we effectively tie our hands because we can’t then call the referendum until we know what the Tories are doing, and that could very well be too close to the actual Brexit date to allow us to hold a referendum in time to ensure that Scotland never leaves the EU.
I’m aware some independentistas would like us to wait till everything becomes clear and the consequences of Brexit are real and felt by everybody, but as I wrote yesterday, I feel that’s like walking out onto thin ice with our partner when we could be standing on the shore.
We need to come up with a plan that works even if the Tories do their best to muddy the waters. Walking onto thin ice in the middle of the night when you can’t see what you’re doing is hardly better than doing it during the day!