Peter Arnott has an article in Bella Caledonia today, suggesting that it’s likely a pro-independence consensus will emerge by 2028:
My guess, for what it’s worth, about the next few years, is that there is no avoiding the realities of Brexit, despite the concerted efforts of Corbyn on one side and May on the other to clamp their hands over their eyes as they walk us off the cliff. My second guess is that we will have another UK General Election which will elect one more UK government to try to “make a go of it” no matter what “it” turns out to be. And that meaningful constitutional change, a decisive transfer of sovereignty from London to Edinburgh, which may or may not be called “Independence” will happen as part of the recovery from this catastrophe, and not, as we hoped, as Nicola Sturgeon hoped, in its anticipation.
In short, that all this will come, if it does, will not come as part of the UK’s exit from the EU in 2021, but as part of the process of getting back in somewhere around 2028. And it will seem as natural as did the referendum to establish the Parliament in in Edinburgh in 1997 that the UK will be reconfigured. As natural as rain.
This might indeed happen. Sometimes history does repeat itself, and this sounds similar to what happened in Scotland between 1979 and 1997: The pro-devolution referendum was lost, then the Scots had to endure more than a decade of Tory rule they never voted for, but during those years a consensus was formed that independence was needed, so when Labour got into power in 1997 and called a new referendum, nearly 75% voted in favour of the creation of the Scottish Parliament.
However, it’s only one of many possible futures. Here are three other possibilities:
- The Tories enact a hard Brexit, but only after a transition period lasting longer than originally envisaged, from March 2019 until December 2024. Because very little changes during transition, they manage to get reelected in May 2024. However, shortly after the election, lots of businesses realise transition is ending, and they leave the UK. The next couple of years are horrendous, but then a number of Tory MPs defect to Labour (led by Chuka Umunna since the election), and they trigger a new general election. Umunna’s Labour wins a huge majority on a manifesto that promises to take the UK back into the EU. Scots now flock to Labour again because it offers the best hope for getting back into Europe, and independence is not on the agenda at all by 2028.
- Brexit becomes very hard, and many aspects of devolution get sacrificed to give the UK a lot of leeway to sign trade deals. As a consequence, the deal with the US includes health services and agricultural products, as well as the abolition of protected geographical names such as Scotch Whisky. Most Scots aren’t happy, but apathy has set in, and nobody is prepared to call a referendum on independence when it’s clear it will mean a very hard border with England, as well as destroying those new companies that have sprung up to benefit from the new trade agreements. In 2028, there’s a lot of people wishing they had had the courage to call an independence referendum ten years earlier.
- During 2018, it becomes clear that Brexit will become an utter disaster, and in January 2019, 350 MPs from all parties win a vote in the Commons to reverse Brexit. The letter is sent to the EU the following week, and the EU accepts it. Brexit is now cancelled, and the UK remains. However, many companies have already relocated to the continent because the change of heart happened so late in the day, so the finances are tight, and austerity continues for a number of years. In Scotland, these economic measures of course get implemented by the SNP, and this causes a lot of anger, so in the 2021 Holyrood they lose power and get replaced by a Tory–Labour coalition. In 2028, the SNP have still not managed to get back into power, and a new independence referendum is at least five years into the future.
I’m not saying the scenario outlined in Peter Arnott’s article is impossible, just that it’s only one of many possible futures, so betting the house on it seems very dangerous to me. We must act while we still can, rather than leaning back and dreaming about tomorrow.