The worst kept secret in the world of politics is finally out.
Today, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to lobby the British government for a second Scottish independence referendum. Only a little over 2 years since the last one, her reasoning is that the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and therefore should be able to choose between an independent Scotland, which would then re-join the European Union, and a nation united with the UK outside the of it.
Sturgeon said that she wants it to be held at the back end of 2018, in order that Scottish voters will have a chance to see what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like, potentially influencing their decision on independence.
It’s a risky move by the SNP leader. Polls have consistently indicated that if there were a referendum today, Scots would still vote ‘No’ to independence by a comfortable margin. Sturgeon is banking on the fact that Brexit negotiations will go sour and that she will be able to increase popular support for independence. The last vote was hailed as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity. There could never be a third referendum. Another loss next year could spell the end of the SNP.
Will May agree?
Currently, it looks like the answer is no. In an interview today the Prime Minister accused the Scottish Nationalists of ‘tunnel vision’. However, there is only so much pressure that May will be able to take, and she hasn’t outright refused the possibility of a second referendum yet.
Jeremy Corbyn stated that should the Scots want a second referendum, Labour would not object. However, if it went ahead he said that his party would campaign for Scotland to remain part of the UK. The Scottish Lib Dems also announced their opposition to independence, but the Greens have pledged their support.
Sturgeon is taking a big risk here. First of all, there’s the economic arguments against independence that will again come under scrutiny. Then, and more importantly, is the risk of Scotland not being allowed to join the EU. That would undoubtedly be a big part of the referendum campaign, and there’s a compelling argument to suggest that there is a significant risk.
All EU countries have to agree to any new country joining the Union, and Spain would seem likely to block a Scottish entry. The nation has its own independence calls from the Catalonia region, and allowing Scotland to enter the EU could encourage this.
More will become clear over the coming weeks and months, but I’d be surprised if May refused a second referendum. However, it will be the way Brexit turns out that affects whether or not Scotland do eventually leave the UK.