Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Scottish Independence: A Generation Is Now Officially Five Years

People of Scotland, your government - that is your Scottish government - trusts you. It trusts you to make a momentous decision at some point in the near future at a point when it thinks you will make the decision it wants you to make. If on the other hand you make a different choice to the one it trusts you to make, well then it reserves the right to ask you again a generation later. For the avoidance of doubt, a generation is 4 or 5 years. If on the other hand you make the choice it trusts you to make then a generation is 300 years.

It's appropriate really that Nicola Sturgeon yesterday decided to call for another independence referendum on the issue of the EU. As we all know the EU is also keen on having as many referendums as are necessary until the outcome is that which was desired. Accordingly the SNP fully respects the result of the Scottish referendum of less than 3 years ago in which the Scottish people chose to stay in the United Kingdom but, more in sorrow than in anger you understand, feels compelled to ask the Scottish people if they have changed their minds because the rest of the country has now decided to leave the EU. Quite what this has to do with anything is anyone's guess given the result of that 2014 referendum. Who knew that Scotland had been given a veto over the decision that the rest of the country made. Was that part of that hastily cobbled together vow? Scotland gets better funding, more powers and the right to whinge endlessly about anything and everything in perpetuity until the rest of the country gets sick of them and asks them to leave?

All of the evidence of course is that Scots do not support this latest gambit by the SNP who seem to be of the opinion that they must also piss off their countrymen as much as they do the English until they get their way. Scotland last year made the Tories the second largest party at Holyrood, yet the SNP persist in their belief that Scots are resentful at the prospect of Tory rule from Westminster despite most of the major issues of their lives being run (badly) from Edinburgh.

The excuse this time is that Scotland is going to be forced to leave the single market against its will and so another referendum is necessary, although they claim that this will become necessary before the negotiation that has not even begun yet has concluded. And how they explain that Scotland is substantially underperforming the rest of the country on a range of measures from education to employment to growth figures despite the entire country still being in the single market is a mystery. Scots might well conclude that they would be better off with a government that wants to just get on with running the country without obsessing constantly about independence. Hell, they might even be better off with the Tories.

Scottish independence makes even less sense than it did in 2014 given the state of Scotland's finances according to its government's own figures. It runs a substantial deficit funded by the English taxpayer, a deficit that has only been made worse by the fall of the oil price, a fall that is likely to become more or less permanent given the state of the oil market. Scotland would not be permitted to continue to use the pound, would have to slash spending or raise taxes and would likely see substantial numbers of people and businesses migrate south thus making it even more difficult to balance its books. The SNP is also committed, for reasons best known to themselves, to closing Royal Navy bases where Trident submarines are based, thus sending more jobs and government spending south.

And on the supposed issue that prompts this referendum? Well that makes no sense either. Scotland would not be allowed to simply stay in the EU and its single market after the rest of us have left and would have to apply afresh for membership, an application that would be fraught with difficulty and would likely take years if it ever happened at all. If and when they did gain entry they would then have to hand back to Brussels many of the powers they gained from the UK government and would have to join the euro.

For now the Prime Minister should simply say that, if they insist, she will of course grant them a referendum. But, by their own arguments, that means waiting until the deal on us leaving the EU has been done so that the people of Scotland can take a decision on whether to leave the UK in addition to leaving the EU, something on which they no longer have any choice because the decision was made on June 23rd last year. The PM shows every sign of standing fast against the usual grievance mongering of the SNP. Scotland does not get to dictate to the rest of us what happens now. They can have their referendum if they insist upon it. But, since they have had one only recently and since there is no urgency, a wait of at least 2 years is of no consequence, indeed a decision after such a time frame, after Britain has left the EU, will mean a better informed electorate.

Of course its entirely possible that Mrs May will emerge from her negotiations triumphant with a deal to be proud of leaving us with full access to the Single Market and a healthy relationship with our erstwhile partners. Under such circumstances I assume Ms Sturgeon will offer her hearty congratulations to the PM and withdraw her request for a second referendum. Whatever happens, I suspect that Ruth Davidson will represent a rather more formidable electoral foe than the SNP faced the last time. If they insist upon their referendum they should be prepared for the likely consequences. They hit their high watermark after the general election of 2015. It's all downhill from now on. Ms Sturgeon gambled yesterday. She will lose.

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