On #Brexit nothing is certain, even the assumption it would be followed by a Scottish exit

Much of what happens in the Brexit debate we should probably take with a large pinch of salt, whether or not it comes from a camp you favour or not. It’s a bit of a leap into the dark, so not all of the consequences, either way, can be reliably foreseen.

It’s likely to be a class of Project Fear Mk II. One line to be particularly sceptical of is the idea that if the UK comes out of the EU, Scotland will automatically vote to go back in again.

The problem for the Remain camp is that nobody really loves the European Union they way that they undoubtedly love Scotland.

Yet the commensurate problem for the Out groups is that no one has yet given sufficiently resoundingly good reason to leave what is still (for the UK at least) just a little more than a glorified customs union.

Of the two, I’d argue that the latter has by far the bigger mountain to climb – with or without the ebullient and Sisyphean efforts of the outsize figure of the Mayor of London.

Inertia can be a powerful force in politics, and foreign policy (albeit one that comes with considerable domestic burdens) is rarely a great lifter of votes.

Now, extend that principle and hypothetically push it beyond that  point the UK votes for Brexit?

The same inertia issues will appear on the deficit side of anyone plump for leaving the UK ostensibly in order to re-join the EU (and possibly a far from stable Eurozone).

Two thoughts.  If Brexit occurs it will imply little less than an ignominious collapse for the Remain side.

Selling something to Scotland that the whole of the UK has rejected won’t be easy: especially if it means re-addressing the tricky issues that brought defeat for the Independence side less than two years earlier.

Secondly, the assumption that Scotland and England significantly diverge on the matter of the European Union is doubtful. Enter our old friend/enemy the Social Attitudes survey. The latest Scottish survey suggests that in fact there is very little divergence:

According to the research, based on the annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey carried out between July 2015 and January this year, 43% of respondents want the EU’s powers reduced and 17% want to leave, more than at any time since 1999. This compares with 43% favouring reduced powers and 22% wanting to leave the UK as a whole.

In the tense, over dramatised and polarising atmosphere of a referendum campaign we might well see these figures shift (and given the ‘posh chaps’ who make up the dramatis personae of the Out campaign) possibly diverge.

But these ‘at rest’ attitudes suggest Euroscepticism amongst real people (and not just active voters) in both parts of John Bull’s island is largely confined to reform rather than Brexit per se.


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  • kensei

    You’ve been pushing this line for a while, but it is inconceivable that it won’t trigger a second referendum. And while you are right that does not equal independence, a 5% swing a huge amount to turnaround and there a range of outcomes of a second referendum, an uncomfortable number of which mean continued constitutional struggle in an self perpetuating loop. The only one that results in a stronger UK is one where the needle moves the other direction and that does not look likely right now.

    The arguments for an independent Scotland in the event of Brexit go well beyond the economic to the point where the economic arguments might well get overwhelmed, particularly with the current state of the Labour Party threatening a semi permanent Tory majority. I’d caution against social attitude surveys. People say a lot of things – what matters is how they vote. This usually bites the left in the ass, since polls will happily show support for higher taxes for better services and the like until it comes to the import ballot. But in Scotland it definitely swings the other way.

    No one is talking about the other possibility, by the by: with the polls currently very tight, Scotland might keep England in against it’s will. That’d be fun. There is a decent chance the Tory party will stay united through the campaign and succeed in splitting England in two.

  • mickfealty

    Are you just arguing with ‘the line’ so you don’t actually have to address what’s written in the piece ken? That said, I agree that Cameron’s handling of this and the Scottish matter have been remarkably short term. But in this dynamic digital age the half life of any political strategy becomes vanishingly small.

    I don’t think he will either unify the Tory party, or spilt the country. BoJo is setting himself up as a tribune of the sceptics who if they lose the referendum will be confined to some kind of reform project at least for the near term. How well he goes after that may depend on how good he is at being something other than a personality politician with an impressive turn of phrase.

    Contrary to external appearances EU membership is a low preference issue for most English folks. If they vote to leave few will really cast much of a backward glance, and if the Scots do keep the UK in, I don’t see the rancour you’re evidently expecting suddenly arising. Ironically, if we stay in, I’d expect to see Cam pass over the baton early to someone who is not BoJo, and we might see an early election looking for a mandate. And to kill off Corbyn.

    If he loses he may stay on to conclude a deal over what the ensuing ‘British model’ would look like, again in order to keep the beast at bay to leave on a high. All very Machiavelli, except Mac himself tried to stay too long.

  • Zorin001

    The danger is if its a razor slim majority for in and out, say 51-53% either way; then nothing is really settled. Especially if its say 250,000 Scottish votes which swing it to Remain, the fallout to that will be apocolyptic within the Tory party, if not the whole of Westminister

  • kensei

    I read it. Maybe ‘the line’ is a reflection on the contact rather than my comprehension.

    If Scotland keeps England in, you have a grievance that’ll harden attitudes towards Scotland in some quarters. Some idiot Tory will openly state that perhaps they’d have been better off if Scotland had gone independent. Which enters a feedback loop that doesn’t exactly make things more stable.

    Intensity beats preference. Labour found that out in June, but it’s something that, say, the NRA in the US has internalised. I think you are underestimating the risks. If you are going for a referendum, you need to win handsomely otherwise nothing really changes and in many cases makes matters worse. Exit would be a disaster that no major figure in the mainstream parties really wants. A close result and the issue will dog the Tories for the next generation at least. A close result where one part keeps another part from their preference will cause further constitutional spasms.

    It might and probably will work out ok. But Cameron is a gambler. He’s been lucky so far. If he keeps going his luck will run out. I just hope it isn’t here.

  • mickfealty

    I agree with most of that. It is a clusterf***. But since it’s not going to go away you know, I also think we ought to be realistic about the downside risks.

  • kensei

    I think a realistic assessment of the downside risk on Scotland would conclude that it’d be slightly favoured to leave in the event of a split stay / leave given

    (1) polls have nudged up since the referendum
    (2) Unionism burned a lot of its goodwill in the last referendum
    (3) Last minute stunts are unlikely to have the same impact
    (4) Remain no longer has stability as an argument

    But it’s not certain – that’d leave a large chance that it won’t. Which may not be better for rUK if it is also acrimonious. I think there should be definite teeth sucking if you are in favour of Out and are considering it.

  • murdockp

    The Scottish ministers make decisions with a closer eye on what Dublin does that what Westminster does as the state they wish to build is very similar to the Irish Republic.

    I think Scottish independence is closer than commentators are acknowledging.

    This time round EU membership is a certainty on a yes to independence vote as it already is a member.

  • scepticacademic

    Ireland was the SNP’s favoured model during the Tiger era but they spend more time talking about the Nordics these days.

  • mickfealty

    Quite so.

  • mickfealty

    You don’t like surveys, do you Ken? Polls have more than nudged up for the SNP, they’ve skyrocketed.

    But the iScotland business model needs fixing before they haste back to an IndyRef2. That’s why Cam is running them at speed (and to their protest) through this hurdle.

    No Brexit, no problem. Brexit will probably signal major problems in the Eurozone, since many of the problems of a few years ago are merely in abeyance rather than solved.

    All of this may leave indelible toxins of course. But the risk of losing two IndyRefs in such a short time also would also have its own hard to reverse negative effects.

  • kensei

    Surveys for independence have hovered about the 50% mark, not skyrocketed. The SNP are another story.

    I disagree about the “business model”. Brexit throws the UK model into uncertainty. The choice is now between two risky futures and not one. It also sharpens the non economic arguments. On balance, that is positive for those making the case for an independent Scotland. Hence why I’d favour them in a second referendum post Brexit.
    But yes, no exit, no problem. For now.

    Greece fundamentally changed my opinion on the EU, by the by. I’m not blind to the problems and in different circumstances I’d vote no to hasten the point where it gets fundamental reform. But I couldn’t do it in good conscience given it further partition and chance god knows what here.

  • mickfealty


  • Ernekid

    Scottish independence is inevitable regardless of how the EU ref turns out. The majority of Scots under 35 voted for independence. The future of Scotland is leaning nationalist. It’s not very likely that the English establishment will try to bring Scots back on side. The cause for independence will only get stronger with time.

  • mickfealty

    With the exception of the word inevitable, that’s all broadly true.

  • kensei
  • Robin Keogh

    As does the Irish left

  • Robin Keogh

    You are correct re pinch of salt, nobody is clear yet on the arguments on either side in the round.

    However, lets not forget about passion. Referenda are won and lost on passion and so far the Out argument has oodles of it, Cameron and Co will have to work on that to get sleepy englanders to the polls.

    Scotland, again who knows how that will pan out. But the SNP will absolutely want a second indy ref in the event of a Brexit. Will London fight it with the same passion as before and will Scottish business do likewise? Will a significant number of floating scots opt for independence rather than have the issue permanently in their face.

    Whatever ones view, there is a lot at stake.

  • John Collins

    I am loathe to use this ‘under 35’ argument. I know when I was young and had SFA, I wanted to share it with everybody and was an out and out socialist. However, as I advanced in years and accumulated pension rights and bits of property etc, I forgot all about this social justice crack and felt a more of a what I have I hold attitude. Is this typical of how human attitudes change over time or am I just a selfish old curmudgeon and an oddity to boot?. Overall I do think however that the older we get the more likely we are to vote for the status quo.

  • Scots Anorak

    I think you neglect the extent to which the EU attracts what one might term the “instrumental love” of Scottish Nationalists. Put simply, an independent Scotland outside the EU is a much harder sell. Indeed, Tom Devine, the leading Scots historian, stated explicitly that he had come around to the idea of independence because other organisations, including the EU, were already doing much of what the British Empire used to do, such as guaranteeing access to overseas markets. That there are Eurosceptics in Scotland is unsurprising, but many of them will still opt to remain if it is explained to them that independence is much less likely without the EU.
    Furthermore, although your Unionist readers will disagree, much of Scottish Nationalism is aimed at normalisation, and that includes the resurrection of the social-democratic consensus (the European mainstream) and a return to the notions of co-operation and internationalism with which Blair and Bush dispensed. England, on the other hand, seems to be going off at a tangent.
    Depending on the margins, there would certainly be very strong pressure for another referendum in the case of Brexit. Regardless of the overall result, I’d be surprised if Scotland didn’t vote decisively to stay in. Whether a second referendum would definitely be won is another matter; it is, after all, very soon after the first, and the EU element may blur the issues for some. The older, more conservative, newspaper-reading social-media virgins who like the UK often have far less generous attitudes to the EU. And for many on the left, the EU blotted its copybook in its treatment of Greece.
    Overall, though, a second referendum won in the case of Brexit, while not certain, is eminently plausible. I could imagine many Labour and trade union folk coming round this time, particularly given the likely consequences of Brexit for workers’ rights. The former First Minister Henry McLeish has already said that he would support independence in the case of Brexit.

  • Scots Anorak

    Would an early election not require a super-majority in the Commons under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011? Barring a vote of no confidence, a two-thirds majority would be required. By my calculations, it would require agreement between the Tories and Labour for that to happen (Tories + SNP would not suffice). For the Conservatives to persuade Labour, electoral prospects would have to be finely balanced.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well for someone who says nothing is certain you seem to suggest a big certainties.

    1. “If Brexit occurs it will imply little less than an ignominious collapse for the Remain side.”

    Why? Look at Norway’s pro-EU side it consolidated and got Norway to EU-light. Iceland has flip floped on the EU depending on its economic state.

    The SNP grew after its defeat.

    2. “the assumption that Scotland and England significantly diverge on the matter of the European Union is doubtful.”

    Except Scottish nationalism doesn’t need to diverge from England or the English, it just needs to diverge from Westminster control.

    Westminster is competing with Holyrood, trying to justify it being a mini-EU and having many of the same EU problems that the Brexiteers complain about. Scotland’s the Germany that needs migrants, the English are the French wanting a balanced migration strategy, the Kippers are the Romanians extremely concerned about refugees and economic migrants from the East putting pressure on their public services.

    Every bad decision Westminster takes post-Brexit adds fuel to the fire of a Scottish Independence Referendum, and since Brexit is high-risk, there needs to be proof that Scottish administration is not better with an English administration that limits its self-determination within the union while overestimating the strengths of partnership.

    Everything Westminster does to lose the trust and confidence of the Scottish pushes the cause of Scottish nationalism, exactly the same way everything the European Union does to lose the trust and confidence of the British people pushes Brexit.

    And even if neither does nothing wrong, perceptions can lose that trust too.

    We see the same sort of thing with some in the Leave camp, “Love Europe, Hate the EU” … Europeans can be afraid of migrants, they can want their borders patrolled, they are proud of their country’s histories and heritage, there is plenty of Euro-skepticism within the European Union.

    So If this was a referendum on do you like Europe, do you want the UK involved in Europe? … 99% of the British People including many of the xenophobes and migrant complainers would say YES, while about 1% thinks Splendid Isolation, or being some Airstrip One colony of a Western Atlantic Superstate may be a better idea.

    There’s a reason why Brits watch Eurovision and the UEFA Championship League, there’s a reason why British teams don’t join the World Series, and even Donald Trump isn’t liked much in the British far right. Oswald Mosely was more worried about being the 51st state and looked to Europe to protect Britain’s common values and identity with Europe which transcended linguistic differences.

    People who think the Brits are going to surrender their European identity, heritage and social model just to copy the Americans on the simple basis of being Fellow English speakers are just damn crazy!!!

    Similarly I think most Scottish nationalists actually like the English, many would call themselves British in an independent Scotland, but that doesn’t mean they want “unity in adversity” under the command of Westminster.

    After all if there’s a Brexit, the feeling of “unity in adversity” under European Treaties won it for the Leave side.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Razor slim results have happened in countries joining and not joining the European Union and those nations haven’t fallen apart. Algeria was kicked out of the European Economic Community and it didn’t fall apart.

    I don’t think a Brexit could by itself cause a Scottish independence referendum regardless over whether Scotland’s vote is nullified or the determinant factor.

    I think a Brexit can be a catalyst for genuine negative feelings towards Westminster that are already there into working harder for an independent Scotland.

    Certainly if the Scottish economy declines significantly on a Brexit, the promised free trade deals don’t emerge and the political establishment destroys all the good work the European Union has done for Scotland.

    Effectively if Scotland is abandoned to please Southern Eastern England for want of a better phrase then it helps the Scottish nationalist cause. English feelings towards West Lothian interference can be a good push factor too.

    A competent united Scottish government operating in post-Brexit adversity may better market itself to Scotland than a divided government in Westminster with too many egos to compromise on the pragmatic center ground. That may pull people towards Scottish independence.

    It’s not about going back to the EU cap in hand for farm subsidies, it’s about the Scottish people being more bothered with different concerns in their lives than Westminster focuses upon and their issues having next to no influence in that arena.

    The Great irony is that England alone has 10% of the European Union population and members of its population complains about being ignored and influential and it cannot achieve its full potential because of the European Union.

    Scotland has 8.3% of the U.K. population, maybe 1.1% of the EU population.

  • mickfealty

    Why would the leader of the opposition not go for an opportunity to go for an election?

  • dcomplex

    If the UK leaves the EU, many of the powers reclaimed by Westminster from Brussels automatically devolve to Holyrood.