Nicola Sturgeon has gambled with her move for independence. It’s not such a bad bet

by Atul Hatwal

There are three stages to processing the news that we seem to be heading for a sequel to the Scottish independence referendum.

Stage one: why the shock.

What is surprising about a Scottish nationalist politician calling for independence from the rest of the UK? Surely, the clue is in Nicola Sturgeon’s party title.

Brexit offers a justifiable opening to ask the question which was meant to have been answered for a generation. The fundamental circumstances of Britain’s position have changed and the post-2014 settlement was predicated on a United Kingdom in Europe.

Stage two: Sturgeon has miscalculated.

But once the campaign begins, the same economic pressures will be brought to bear again on the electorate. Set aside for a moment the ludicrous hypocrisy of a Tory Brexiteer government running a facsimile of the Remain campaign’s economic arguments about leaving a union, the threat that will be articulated is not only real but potentially greater than in 2014.

Many will talk about the importance of identity and nationalism but that doesn’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

There was a reason the SNP lost in 2014 by 10%: the economy, stupid.

Stage three: hang on, what if the UK is about to crash out of the EU without a deal?

The kicker for unionists comes courtesy of the Tory government’s approach to Brexit.

At the weekend, Boris Johnson was on our screens giving his considered view as Foreign Secretary that exiting the EU without a deal would be just fine.

If, and it’s a big if, the SNP could promise some form of ongoing EU membership while the rest of the UK wilfully stepped off the trade cliff, babbling about empire, the nineteenth century buccaneer spirit and British pluck, which outcome would represent the greatest economic danger for Scotland: independence or remaining in the UK?

Exiting the EU without a deal would mean that British trade would effectively grind to a halt, not just with the EU but all of the countries with whom Britain traded on the basis of its membership of the EU. That’s pretty much everyone. The run up to this economic detonation would be preceded by the panicked flight of investment, businesses and jobs.

For the Scotland, it’s conceivable, even likely, that a significant chunk of investment flowing out of the rest of the UK would head north at the prospect of retaining the benefits of EU membership.

The total population of Scotland is roughly 5m – about half the size of Greater London. It wouldn’t take a huge proportion of the potential investment that will leave the rest of the UK, London in particular, to flow into Scotland to make a material difference to its future.

The key for Sturgeon is a deal with the EU.

This is often painted as a huge barrier. It’s not. The incentive for Brussels to punish a hard Brexiteer UK government by giving Scotland an easy path to membership would be impossible to resist.

Speaking to EU officials after Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday, they mapped out a route involving fast track membership of the single market (something Spain would find it hard to block) followed by accelerated accession talks for full membership.

A referendum in Autumn 2018 would likely be at the low point of UK divorce negotiations with Brussels – hostile rhetoric and posturing before the scale of imminent economic horror forced some form of interim deal to be cobbled together, at the last minute, in 2019.

In this scenario, the economic threat of independence, the argument that saved the union before, would be contestable.

In contrast, at the last independence referendum, the SNP literally had no answer to the barrage of economic warnings.

The importance of contestability was evident in last year’s EU referendum.

Despite six months of concentrated fire from business, the Bank of England and David Cameron’s government, not enough people believed there was an economic downside to leaving the EU.

Polling from the huge British Election Study which had a 30,000 sample has highlighted the almost total alignment between peoples’ economic expectations and the way they voted – 93% who thought Brexit would make the economy worse voted Remain, 91% who thought it would make things better voted Leave.

The reason project fear (or fact as it will come to be known in a few years) failed is that the economic threat was contestable.

Decades of stories blaming the EU for our economic ills, an absent Labour leader and most of all, six years – 2010 to the start of 2016 – of David Cameron making the case that Britain would be perfectly fine leaving the EU, meant the economic debate dissolved into a white noise of he said, she said, for the typical voter.

In a context where there wasn’t a clear and present economic danger from Brexit, the country voted to take action that they believed would cut immigration – an issue which has consistently been important to voters, but not salient in determining their votes because the economy always previously trumped it.

A 2018 Scottish independence referendum could replay key aspects of the EU referendum.

Picture the scene: Early September 2018, an independence rally where yet another finance CEO walks out on stage with Nicola Sturgeon to announce that their business is going to relocate from London to Edinburgh and that they have faith in the economic future of an Scotland.

5% is the swing that the nationalists need. If the economic case is contestable – six of one, half a dozen of the other to most voters – do we really think that 1 in 10 No voters from 2014 would not fancy taking back control?

Particularly from a Tory government that they didn’t vote for and one which, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts, is likely to be in office for many years to come.

Suddenly, Nicola Sturgeon’s gamble doesn’t look such a bad bet.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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10 Responses to “Nicola Sturgeon has gambled with her move for independence. It’s not such a bad bet”

  1. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Once again Atul Hatwal shows his lack of knowledge on another subject he claims to be an expert on.
    First off, Sturgeon hasn’t gambled. When a gun is held to your head you aint gambling. May has ignored Sturgeon since 24 June 2016. Had Sturgeon not laid down a marker yesterday May would have taken Scotland out along with rUK without so much as a thought. The only other choice Sturgeon had was to go along with the charade, sniped from the side line and held on to her job as FM. That is not in the Scottish nature. She has too much self respect for that.
    If the SNP loose this second referendum (which I think they will ) Sturgeon and her party are finished, probably for good.
    Now, what will Labour’s position be in the run up to this? Labour in Scotland are bigger unionists that UKIP and the Tories put together. Why? because they are driven by only one thing; hatred of the SNP. Forget what is right for the country. This is tribal.
    And what about Labour’s leader Mr.Jeremy Corbyn? At the weekend he had ‘absolutely no problem’ with a second referendum in Scotland. It was ‘not Westminster’s business’. That lasted two days, and after a couple of calls from north of the border, he is now ‘mischievously misquoted’. The man is a disgrace.
    Thank god Scotland still has politicians that know what self respect is. We might not win a second referendum but at least we still can look each other in the eye. Labour as a party could be on the right side here, Scotland’s migrants feel at home and know the Scottish government is at least trying for them. But I guarantee you this, Scottish Labour will be on the opposite side from them and will once again side with the Tories and UKIP because they would rather sell their soul to the devil than stand along side the SNP.

  2. John P Reid says:

    60% of scots voted voted lremain out of loyalty to being one nation Tories, beung Broenite lsbour or the SNP, saying the Eu is a lefty idea, even some libdems and greens in SoctLnd are Euro sceptic,

    The project fear mark2 ‘you’ll be worse off if you leave the Eu,’ fell on deaf ears in Council estates, people saying if you’ve got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose, so warning people leaving the UK would be financially damaging, wouldn’t work any more, of a threat, than saying wuth Brexit people would be worse off so Scots should leave the UK, and rejoin the EU

    If Scotland did go independent’ then a referndum for them to rejoin the EU,(if it’s still around then) wouldn’t probably see Scots vote for it

    Same as if Northern Ireland voted to leave the UK, I can see circumstances where ,the people of NI, wouldn’t probably vote to join up with Ireland, as such they be their one small country, our of the EU,,out of the UK, and out of Ireland

  3. Tafia says:

    What looks a simple matter for Sturgeon to deliver is far from it.

    First the IndyRef2. That will almost certainlynot happen until after BREXIT – which means Scotland leaves the EU under the same terms as the rest of the UK. Although the Section 30 aspect in the Scottoish Parliament is easy enough for Sturgeon to deliver, it still then has to go through the full Parliamentary process in Westminster – but not until AFTER the government allocate it time etc. nd May will not allow the referendum to take place until after we are out of the EU. Probably will have it as a manifesto committment for the 2020 GE, meaning you are looking at 2021-2022 at the earliest

    Then there is the EU itself. Already they are rubbishing Scotland. Official spokesperson said yesterday that they will not speak to Scotland until AFTER it has left the EU. That it wouldn’t have to go through the full accession process – because much of the requirements are already in place because of it’s UK membership, but that oyt would still take 4-6 years AND the approval of every members state (and shortly after, Rajov’s Foreign Minister said Spain would veto the application as a matter of routine)

    So Sturgeon is going to have to sell independence from the UK in a position of being out of the EU AND having to apply for membership AND being outside the EU for a significant portion of the joining time (provided Spain doesn’t veto).

    And that is not going to be an easy sell. In fact I reckon she won’t even try and sell that, and will offer independence from the UK and a more easily achievable ‘europe’ aim of EEA membership.

    As for Northern Ireland, although they voted Remain, that was bloc voting – the Catholics and the protestant middle class <UUP & AP). The protestatnt working class voted Leave. Any referendum regarding joining the Republic and the protetstant middle class will show why they are unionists and vote with the protestant working class.

  4. Tafia says:

    2010 to the start of 2016 – of David Cameron making the case that Britain would be perfectly fine leaving the EU

    Atul that is drivel of the highest order. He was a Remainer – that’s why he resigned.

  5. DrSiMo says:

    Shale gas?

    The scotch middle class view as I understand it is that union in1707 was forced by bankruptcy. What was the scottish enlightenment of hume, smith etc? that scotland was best ruled from london? The eu is the other essential part of scotland being able to hold its own.

    Fake news for me is a way of challenging media priorities. The Dutch election is classic example, big chance to find out about british neighbour with very similar values except it sees itself as a small not a great power in the world. To me sounds much better adjusted. But even on newsnight only interested in media friendly populism.

    While news can only report in 10 minute chunks assuming minimal background knowlege a lot of people will more and more feel wool is being pulled over their eyes and only extreme measures will break the cycle. For many working people anglican or islamic elite makes no difference…

  6. buttley says:

    I was walking down the street the other day, when this guy hammering on a roof called me a paranoid weirdo, in morse code. He probably had issues, so i left it.

    I saw this video about inequality

    It reminded me of the period 580 odd days it took to form a Belgium Gov post 2010 elections, the country did rather well without a government, during this period.

    The UK is running out of PAYE contributors in the middle range, hence the targeting of the self employed. Etc.

    That video screams loudly the solution, narrow the inequality gap, yet no one gives it any more than lip service.

    Is it wilful ignorance?

    Would love to know the feelings of the other responsers who lerk here, far more enlightening than the articles.

  7. Ex-Labour says:

    I cannot believe the utter drivel Atul writes at time.

    In terms of “ludicrous hypocrisy” has he not thought about the illogical paucity of the SNP line ? They want to leave the UK to get more economic freedoms and more decision making capability is apparently the meme.

    Has Sturgeon not seen the way the EU project works with the drive towards political union, which will ultimately reach the point of economic harmonisation and EU control of fiscal and financial policy. So much for taking control locally.

    The truth is she is a political opportunist of the worse kind trying to hide the SNP’s abysmal management of Scotland. Its the classic of diverting attention away from your failures and when May says no she will be the big bad English villain trying to thwart the brave Scots.

    FFS Atul just realise what’s going on.

  8. NickT says:

    It’s amusing to see commentators who have pumped out the most idiotic nonsense in defence of Corbyn suddenly converted to the idea that the SNP are a vacuous party who can’t win the argument on post-Brexit independence.

    1) Labour in Scotland are irrelevant. Their leader is unpopular and their time as a major party in Scotland is over.

    2) The Tories are more popular than they used to be in Scotland, but there’s no sign that they can cobble together a majority against the SNP on a good day.

    3) The Lib Dems are not unpopular, but then nobody thinks they are going to matter much either way.

    4) The Greens will go along with the SNP, just as they have in allowing Sturgeon to govern.

    5) The economic argument for remaining in May’s Britain is looking weaker by the day as the Brexit axe plus renewed austerity descend upon the disUnion. Once Brexit has happened, the rush to escape from the English embarrassment is going to be ever stronger.

    6) There’s no-one credible for May and Davidson to work with in pitching the Unionist case. Everything is running in favour of the SNP at this point – and there’s no reason to anticipate that changing. The one card that the Union has is that people mostly don’t want a second referendum so soon. May has thrown that card away by being studiously arrogant and evasive about the possibility of a second referendum. A reasonable response would have been that the voters have consistently said they don’t want another referendum, so why don’t we respect their wishes, eh, Nicola? Instead, May is taking the stupidest possible line. People always want something more when they are told they can’t have it – and that’s exactly where May is taking this.

  9. Ex Labour says:


    I agree with point 1, points 2,3 and 4 are arguable but I’ll go with you, but points 5 and 6 I’m afraid you slip into some SNP twilight zone.

    From the day after the Indyref1 defeat Sturgeon and her cronies have plotted for a second referendum with any number of excuses trotted out as the basis for the next vote. Its become so farcical that I’m told they even have their own hashtag on Twatter #Indyref2trigger whenever something about Scotland is mentioned. It culminates last week with Sturgeon’s brash and arrogant tweet and speech. Her arrogance knows no bounds as she explicitly ignores swathes of SNP voters who don’t want another “once in a lifetime” vote on independence or Brexit.

    Lets be honest here you’re just another Remoaner (point 5) looking for another stick to hit the government and majority who voted to leave. Democracy eh ?…Its a bitch

  10. uglyfatbloke says:

    I’m not convinced about the swathes of SNP (or other) voters that don’t want a second referendum. Apart from me – and I don’t like referendums full stop – I’ve yet to meet anyone who is strongly opposed to having one and only one who wants it to be post-Brexit. OTH I live in the sole Lib-Dem constituency, so my local community is maybe less representative than most.

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