This time next week

It is interesting that the scenario of the UK voting to leave the EU, while Scotland votes to remain, is now being taken seriously – very seriously – by the UK commentariat. However, there is a frequent flaw in the analysis in that it is unlikely events will do more than partially unfold on 24th June. That day – other than the declaration of the result – is mainly notable for being the Friday before the first of the last 16 matches in the European Football Championships, and the Friday before the start of Wimbledon – so there is the promise of plenty opium for the masses there.

The issue in fact is what happens after the 24th? Will Cameron remain as PM? Highly unlikely, though he may continue till the negotiations with the EU on exit are concluded on the basis that he got us into this mess so he can get us back out. However, Osborne may find himself gone in short order – after all what greater love has a man (in this case, Dave) than to lay down the life of his friend (George) for his own? Then again, the Tory Party is notably intolerant of failure, and it may be decided that Cameron too should go at once, or perhaps, having decided he will be gone by 2020 anyway, he decides it’s not worth it any more – having to negotiate an outcome he campaigned against, with the Brexiteers hot breath on his neck – and resigns.

Who would replace him? Received wisdom says BoJo – the man who has played the King over the Water these last few years – and you can bet your house that he wants the job no matter what he says and will pull out all the stops to get it. However, we have to remember that while Brexit is the favoured option of just over half Tory MPs, it’s not favoured by the other half. A compromise candidate then? Don’t you think Theresa May has been quiet recently? She could be the compromise the Party needs, perhaps with Johnson as “Minister for European Negotiation” – after all she would have a country to run – and Gove as Chancellor, perhaps with Hammond – another one who has been spectacularly quiet given that he is Foreign Secretary – staying on in the Foreign Office?

But however it works out you can bet your life (as well as your house) that the new government will be even more right wing than the present bunch (hard to imagine I know), and it is as this unfolds that indyref 2 becomes a serious option.

The other day, the Independent ( ran a story claiming to reveal the post-Brexit ‘roadmap’, which included the following Bills they would put to the House of Commons

  1. Removing the UK from the authority of the European Court of Justice, so no UK case would ever go beyond the Supreme Court;
  2. A new Immigration Bill, removing the automatic right of EU citizens to come to the UK;
  3. A Finance Bill to remove the 5% VAT on fuel, and according to Grayling, tampons as well;
  4. A Bill to exempt the UK from all UK laws and trade agreements;
  5. Repeal of the European Communities Act, which would mean EU treaties no longer form part of UK law.

I am not going to suggest that the other three are of no relevance, but it is from the last two from which the main consequences would stem. For a start we can kiss goodbye to the backstop of the Social Chapter, so that employment rights can be watered down without end, all in the name of a “flexible labour market” (aka fewer rights for workers). Likewise, many health and safety protections, and even equalities legislation – presumably justified by “less red tape”?

As this bonfire of protections proceeds it seems reasonable to suggest that disenchantment with Westminster will only increase from the disenchantment put in place when England voted to take the UK out of the EU no matter what Scotland thought. In short, it is not Brexit which will provoke indyref 2, it is its consequences, what happens next, that will provoke indyref2.

In his latest opinion piece for the Herald (17/06/2016), Magnus Gardham considers how a vote to leave by the UK, but to remain by Scotland, might lead to indyref 2 ( Gardham makes much of the fact that the polls do not seem to support this –

“A poll by TNS last week asked how people would vote in a referendum called on the back of a decision to leave the EU opposed by a majority of Scots.

Discounting the don’t knows, it found 44 per cent for Yes and 56 per cent for No, well short of the sustained 50 per cent to 60 per cent support for independence Ms Sturgeon wants to see before she risks putting the questions to the people again”

Now leaving aside that this is not inconsistent with the argument sketched out above (ie its not the fact of Brexit but its consequences that matter), and that the poll in question suggests much the same support for independence as in 2014, Gardham does make some important observations.

Firstly, how prepared is the SNP for another independence referendum? How far have they got in addressing the perceived weaknesses of the last prospectus, and in particular currency? The fact that they are not doing this in plain sight is hardly determining, but one might expect some level of debate. Perhaps provoking such debate is the aim of the “summer offensive”? Who knows. But it is clear that there needs to be some level of preparedness to ensure the result is not the same as last time. A clearer prospectus that is more certain where certainty is possible, but lays out the possibilities where there is a high level of uncertainty, can only be a positive development. But we are still to see much sign of this.

However, the First Minister has been clear that to move on indyref 2 she would be looking for opinion poll support suggesting a 55-60% Yes vote as a minimum, over a sustained period of time. Starting from wherever support for independence is now – certainly somewhere a little higher than 45% – who is to say that the mere fact of Scotland being voted out of the EU against its will by other parts of the UK, won’t give independence a 10% boost?

This would only be further increased should the Tory Party act precipitately – removing Cameron, and in an ideal world (from the point of view of independence only) replacing him with Johnson, who appoints his friends to the cabinet, so IDS, Gove and Grayling all in top jobs. Alex Thomson tweeted yesterday that a “friend” of Farage claimed to him that the Johnson camp had been in touch about giving Farage a peerage and a cabinet post – could just be tittle tattle, but two years ago that would have been laughed at, and not touched by a serious journalist like Thomson, but not now. Add to this, clarity about their even more right wing intentions – no doubt covered by honeyed words – and Salmond’s proposition that within the 2 years that the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, Scotland would hold another independence referendum successfully, and then negotiate to remain in the EU (in effect retaining the UK’s membership), does begin to appear less unrealistic and even fanciful. And as Gardham points out, if the UK seems to be getting a rough deal in their negotiation to leave the EU, then this may make independence seem even more attractive.

Magnus being Gardham however, he cannot resist pointing to the downside of Scotland in the EU, with rUK outside. He suggests, “By staying in the EU, Scotland might end up in a different trading regime from its main export partner. A “hard” EU border may also have to be established between Scotland and England.” To be fair, he has suggested uncertainty with the use of “might”, but the first seems highly improbable. The entire prospectus of the Leave campaign is that the UK would continue to trade with the EU as now – we are the EU’s biggest customer, they say. If so, why would Scotland, as an EU member, be any different from, say, France, which, like Scotland, would also continue to be an EU member?

Likewise, why would there be a “hard border” between Scotland and England? There is not one between Switzerland and the many EU member states with which they share a border. There is not one between Sweden and Norway. Most importantly, before either was a member of the EU (or EEC) there was not a “hard border” between Northern Ireland (or the remainder of the UK) and the Republic. What ‘hardened’ that border, for a time, was “the troubles” and the need for security, not economic matters. Moreover, for years before joining the EEC, the UK and Ireland operated, and still operate, the Common Travel Area. Why, if we were independent, would travel between Scotland and England, not be similarly administered? Still I suppose once Project Fear, aye Project Fear.

So, in conclusion, despite the many attempts to make the 24th June, the key date or not for Scottish independence, it is much more likely that it could be no more than the start of a process. It is unlikely to be a vote for Brexit on its own that will provoke the crisis. Rather it will be the consequences of that vote in a summative manner which could lead to our independence. The fact of Scotland voting to remain but being taken out because of the vote to leave in England is likely to add to support for independence. The manner in which the Tory Party responds may then hasten events – for instance putting Johnson into Downing Street. However, even if they acted less precipitately – for instance Theresa May rather than Johnson – the consequences of leaving will in due course become manifest, as the Social Chapter and the other aspects of the EU’s social legislation are junked.

However, just to clarify this point, post 24th June will not be by any means a mechanical process, but more an “unfolding of events” in the sense used by Symbolic Interactionists. This is clarified by McCall and Becker in “Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies” when they write

“At every step of every unfolding event, something else might happen. To be sure, the balance of constraints and opportunities available to the actors, individual and collective, in a situation will lead many, perhaps most of them, to do the same thing. Contingency does not mean people behave randomly, but it does recognize that they can behave in surprising and unconventional ways”.

As a counterbalance to the tendency of too many political commentators, they go on “The interactionist emphasis on process stands … as a corrective to any view that culture or social structure determines what people do” (page 6). Much comment – for instance the piece by Gardham referred to above, and also McWhirter’s most recent contribution to the Herald – follows a mechanical, rationalist approach, most notable for what they miss out than for their conclusions. Very often the horror of an even more right wing government following a vote for Brexit is never considered, with an unyielding focus on the consequences of the Brexit vote and whether this will provoke Indyref 2. As Gardham points out, though, the polls offer little support for this. But that rules out consideration of the consequences of that Brexit vote, what they might be and however quickly they may come about.

Perhaps then, the most significant issue is not whether a vote for the UK to leave the EU will lead to Scottish independence, but through what sequence of events and how quickly?