It seems to me that the Brexit melodrama is most likely to unfold in one of three directions over the next six months:
- The UK and EU might not be able to agree on the terms on a withdrawal agreement, probably because they cannot agree on the status on Northern Ireland. In that case, all hell will break loose, and who knows how that’ll end. Scottish independence is one possible outcome, but so is a fascist dictatorship, so it’s not an outcome I feel optimistic about. There’s just too much chaos and pain involved.
- The threat of this No-Deal Brexit might also cause a change of heart, and the UK could then end up remaining in the EU. That would make me very happy, but it would kick Scottish independence into the long grass.
- Finally, the Tories might somehow manage to talk the DUP into accepting the Northern Irish backstop required by the EU (which means that Northern Ireland would remain inside the Internal Market for goods if the rest of the UK leaves), but without agreeing in detail what will happen after the end of the transition period (i.e., starting from January 2021). This seems quite likely because the Tories are asking for a future deal that the EU won’t agree to, but at the same time it’s in everybody’s interest that Brexit doesn’t happen in March 2019.
What will the third option mean for Scottish independence?
I fear it will simply mean that the SNP leadership will continue to prevaricate for another two years. After all, there won’t be a smoking gun that they can point to as a trigger for a new independence referendum, so there’ll be a huge temptation to continue to wait for a clearer picture, and that might not emerge till we get too close to the deadline for Scotland to do anything.
It seems to me that the SNP’s strategy has been based on the idea that by now we should have had an agreed withdrawal agreement and a rough deal outlining the future relationship between the UK and the EU. If this had been the case, and it was clear that the UK was heading for a Canadian solution, it would have been easy to ask the Scottish voters whether they wanted to join England on this journey, or whether they wanted to remain inside the EU together with Ireland, and a referendum asking this question wouldn’t have needed to be held till early 2020, which would have been quite feasible.
It seems to me that the whole uncertainty is going to continue till the very moment when the UK either finds itself outside the EU or decides to remain. There simply won’t be a nice, quiet period before then when Scotland can quietly sit down and make up its mind.
Of course, I’m here completely ignoring the slight problem that I don’t think Westminster will agree to a new independence referendum anytime soon. Politics is the art of the possible (as Otto von Bismarck once said), and so long as it’s possible for them to ignore Scotland, they will. The independence movement needs to start outsmarting them again and make it impossible for them to ignore us.
Simply insisting that we won’t leave the Internal Market, as Peter Arnott suggested today, doesn’t seem to me to work, even if 80% of Scottish voters agree, because it’s possible for Westminster to ignore, and we then look doubly impotent afterwards.
Brexit will be hugely damaging to Scotland, and the Tories don’t really care whether we like it as long as we don’t cause too much trouble, so we need to look at what we can do. Hopefully Nicola Sturgeon will announce something useful soon, but I do fear that she’ll simply kick the can down the road again.