Back to the Drawing Board, by Duncan Sutherland

Guest post.

On Sunday evening, when it had been fairly confidently expected that UK Prime Minister Theresa May would be invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on Tuesday, thus initiating negotiations for the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union yesterday, news suddenly began to trickle in to the effect that there was to be a press conference at the official residence of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday, when an important announcement would be made.

Although, as anticipated, Mrs May managed to get her Brexit authorization bill through the UK parliament in time to keep her appointment with destiny yesterday, First Minister Sturgeon’s independence-referendum announcement effectively postponed that until the end of the month, sending the UK government back to the drawing board to think again about its hard Brexit strategy, the Scottish Government having rejected it in the strongest possible terms and in such a way as to exert leverage.

While, by sheer coincidence, former President of the Generalitat of Catalonia Artur Mas and two of his cabinet colleagues were emerging on Monday from the court building in Barcelona where they had just been sentenced by the High Court of Catalonia to various periods of ineligibility to hold public office and were fined for organizing a banned independence consultation at about the time of the first Scottish independence referendum, in September 2014, here was the First Minister of Scotland brazenly stating her firm intention to seek the approval of the Scottish Parliament next week to initiate proceedings for organizing another one, to be held when the UK Brexit deal has taken shape and before the UK has left the EU, so that the people of Scotland may choose to reject that deal if they do not find it to be satisfactory by opting for independence and the freedom to negotiate their own international agreements.

The unrepentant Mr Mas and his equally unrepentant former colleagues were, of course, the main focus of interest in the Catalan TV3 channel’s evening news programme on Monday, as one might have expected, but a great deal of attention was also given to Ms Sturgeon’s little bombshell. Excitement was in the air, not least because the present pro-independence Catalan government remains intent upon pressing ahead with a further unconstitutional independence plebiscite next September, and the expectation is that this time a pro-independence majority will result in a unilateral declaration of independence, as negotiation with the Spanish government is not possible. The potentially serious consequences of these developments are to form the background against which a second Scottish independence campaign is to unfold.

However, all is possibly not quite as it may seem. As the leader of the enormous Scottish National Party group in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson, has helpfully made clear today, no independence referendum need be held in Scotland provided that, even at this late date, the UK government comes to whatever senses it may possess and changes tack by accepting the Scottish Government’s well researched proposal that the UK should negotiate what is known as a differentiated Brexit settlement for Scotland, involving at the very least continuing membership of the Single Market after the rest of the UK (or at least England and Wales) has left it, together with devolution of all the powers which would be necessary for such an arrangement to be possible.

As this would mean that the Scottish Parliament would end up having all power devolved to it except, in broad terms, defence and macro-economic policy, Sinn Féin, which advocates Irish reunification, is demanding something similar for Northern Ireland, which, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU last June, and which earnestly desires the soft border with the Republic of Ireland which continuing Single Market membership could afford it.

To sum up, the choice which Mrs May has had thrust upon her by Ms Sturgeon is between what is known as “independence lite” for Scotland in the brave new Brexit world into which it is being dragged kicking and screaming or, if that is too unpalatable, a throw of the dice in a referendum possibly leading to complete Scottish independence in circumstances in which no bookmaker is currently giving odds against such an outcome.

What is the constitutional position? In Spain, of course, the constitutional position of Catalonia is hopeless incarceration of its entire population within an iron cage from which it is impossible to escape by any legal means whatsoever, which is why the three guilty democrats referred to above will be appealing against their criminal convictions to the highest court in Spain so that they can then take the matter to the European Court of Justice so that the iniquities and inequities of the Spanish regime can be exposed before the entire European Union at a time when, so we are told, Spain will possibly be vetoing Scottish membership of the EU if Scotland chooses independence.

In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, where sovereignty belongs to the Queen in her parliament at Westminster, the power to hold a constitutional referendum can be devolved to the Scottish Parliament again without difficulty, and Scotland will expect this to happen if, as seems highly likely, all of the Scottish National Party and Scottish Green Party members of that legislature vote next week to authorize the Scottish Government to negotiate with the UK for the purpose of obtaining what is known as a Section 30 order under the Scotland Act to allow a legally binding referendum to take place in accordance with the requirements of the Scottish Parliament.

At this point in time no one knows what is going to happen next, but what is known is that opinion polls are indicating that support for Scottish independence is hovering about the 50% mark, whereas at the start of the first Scottish independence referendum campaign it was only 28%, from which it increased so much as to give the unionists no more than a narrow majority.

The choice for Scottish electors (probably including all EU citizens resident in Scotland) this time, if a second referendum comes to pass, will be rather different from last time. This time it will be between uncertainty and upheaval on the UK’s terms and uncertainty and upheaval on our own terms. Which would you choose? You would have the English look after your affairs, would you, considering what a jolly spiffing dog’s breakfast they are making of them at present?

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