Since the finality of the Brexit vote, things have been stirring in Scotland once again. Britain, as a whole, voted to leave the European Union while the majority of Scotland voted to stay.
This makes the climate perfect for Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s formidable first minister, to lay down the foundation for a long game.
Nicola Sturgeon served loyally for a decade as depute to Alex Salmond, both in the Scottish National Party and later in government, before eventually becoming Scotland’s leader. This rise to her post was a result of the failure of the independence referendum of September 2014–he resigned.
Ms. Sturgeon now has her eye on setting up the way to another independence referendum. With the support of the Scottish Parliament, Ms. Sturgeon sent Prime Minister Theresa May a formal letter to this effect:
“The U.K. government has decided to remove Scotland not just from the European Union but from the single market as well, and that’s clearly against the will of the majority of people who live here.”
The British Prime Minister has already mentioned that the referendum cannot happen before Britain leaves the European Union (EU) two years from now. When Ms. Sturgeon was asked regarding the state of her meetings with Mrs. May, she described them as “businesslike” and “cordial”. We’re guessing they weren’t particularly warm either.
The Scottish first minister has been quoted on to saying “we were very keen to try to strike a compromise that would have reconciled the fact that the U.K. voted to leave the E.U. and Scotland voted to remain,” Ms. Sturgeon said. “But there was not a willingness to compromise on her part.”
That was hardly unexpected, Ms. Sturgeon admitted. “It would have been naïve on my part” not to factor in Mrs. May’s refusal to countenance a referendum before the process of Britain’s departure from Europe, or Brexit, is finished, she said.
But Ms. Sturgeon intends to press ahead, promising to tell her Parliament in April of plans to keep up momentum for what she calls “an act of democratic self-determination,” noting that Mrs. May cited the same principle to explain Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
“When the time is right,” when the Brexit negotiations produce greater clarity about the future, “and we’re able to set out in light of changed circumstances what independence would mean for Scotland, then Scotland gets to take that informed choice before it’s too late,” she said. It will be for those living in Scotland to decide, she insisted, not the Parliament in London.
Since Scots voted down independence, 55 percent to 45 percent, the Scottish National Party has grown enormously with many Scots getting politicized by the bitter campaign. With some 25,000 members in September 2014, her party now has more than 125,000, Ms. Sturgeon said.
A second referendum would probably put the independence camp in a better position than three years ago, when young people voted heavily to leave, and a British exit from the European Union seemed highly unlikely. But while Scots voted to remain in the European Union last June by 62 percent to 38 percent, that has not translated easily into support for independence, with about a third of those favoring independence also voting for a British exit.
It may be difficult for Scotland to get everything that it wants. Scotland wants to preserve free trade with the EU and in order to survive, it also need to keep the preexisting free trade with the rest of Britain–something which represents 63% of Scotland’s trade.
While the Scottish nationalists are gaining momentum and support because of the emotional argument, there are many who question the fiscal side of the equation.
The biggest hurdle that the Scottish National Party will have to face is the financial implications of an independent Scotland with ties to the EU. How would an Independent Scotland be able to finance itself? Finding a concrete answer to this question will be the deciding factor to the success of the second referendum.
Scotland’s oil and gas revenues haven’t been good in the last few years. Presently, Scotland’s rate of growth is around a third of Britain’s, at less than one percent a year, and its budget deficit is twice that of Britain’s.
They will have to deal with the deficit in order to effectively acquire independence.