By: Calum Henderson, Student Voices writer
For almost two years, supporters of Scottish independence comforted themselves after defeat by speculating idly about the day when the next referendum would arrive. Having just ignored the vote many of them had demanded for most of their adult lives, they came across as a little ungracious, to put it mildly. Out of this mild contempt for a democratic decision the cumbersome phrase ‘material change in circumstances’ was coined to describe any semi-legitimate reason to allow the much-desired second referendum to take place.
Yet even for critics of Nicola Sturgeon it is not hard to understand why she announced on the morning of 24 June that it was ‘democratically unacceptable’ for Scotland to be taken out of the EU ‘against its will.’ Every local council region north of the border recorded a clear majority for a Remain vote, and while not everyone voted for the EU, Scotland’s overall decision was undoubtable. The referendum on British withdrawal was not one voters in Scotland were particularly engaged with, and the result is predominantly the consequence of English and Welsh ‘left behind’ voters choosing an option that, tragically, they will not benefit from. The Tory frauds that gulled them, such as Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, who now seem poised to take over at Westminster, inspire even less confidence about their commitment to the union than the now-fallen David Cameron. This is indeed a material change of circumstances, one that will concentrate the minds of many in Scotland.
And yet, less than two months ago it seemed as if a second referendum was off the table for the immediate future. The SNP government had been re-elected but the loss of their majority at Holyrood had dented their authority, while the success of Ruth Davidson’s Tories suggested there were many who were unwilling to accept independence as a foregone conclusion. Not that this would stop the SNP: independence is their raison d’être, and as long as they were in government their campaign for it was never going to cease. Except Sturgeon does not really want this. She wanted to bide her time and convince the electorate at her own pace and without external distractions. The abrupt decision by the British to leave Europe has forced her hand, propelling her into a second referendum with more momentum than even she can control.
Technically, Sturgeon has no right to do this. As well as voting against independence in September 2014, the Scottish people also voted fairly convincingly for the United Kingdom, and all that would entail with continued membership. The country is really a mere region of the UK, and if the country as whole voted to leave Europe then Scotland would have to accept that along with all the other areas, such as Northern Ireland, Manchester, Liverpool and London, that also voted to remain. But Sturgeon is going ahead with this anyway for one important reason: she already thinks, speaks and acts as if Scotland were an independent country, one that is merely trapped in an uncomfortable union from which it will soon be prised free. Scotland’s membership of the European comity of nations is of huge importance to her, hence the cognitive dissonance that comes with loving one union of countries while seeking to abolish another.
Had her predecessor Alex Salmond still been in charge and had been vying for a second referendum on the basis of some opinion polls alone, he would have looked every bit like the populist opportunist that he is. But now that Scotland’s membership of the EU has been imperilled, Sturgeon’s determination to win independence seems more like a noble quest, a way of securing what the country has clearly voted for and seeing off villainous English Tories who seek to stand in her way.
However, that it not to say there will not be hurdles ahead. She needs permission from London to hold a second referendum, although whoever is in charge in the next few years, would be a fool to deny her the privilege. She will also need to get her timings right in what could be a very rough few years for the wider United Kingdom, an immediate future which could see an early general election. Then there are the questions about independence itself which hobbled the Yes campaign the first time around, such as the currency issue: do we adopt the Euro, peg it to the pound, or come up with another solution? If England is out of Europe and Scotland is in, does that mean there will be a hard-border between the two countries, with check-points, customs officials and fences at the dividing line? And is it wise, having just been removed from one economic trading area, to attempt to remedy that by removing ourselves from another, one that is arguably more important to our economy?
These are just some of the many questions that will present themselves in the wake of Britain’s astonishing vote to leave the European Union.
Whether she wants it or not, Brexit vote forces Sturgeon’s hand Reviewed by Student Voices on 20:17 Rating: