Politicians are rarely exact. They use generalities; they skirt around issues and, most importantly, they are never certain about anything. It is said that a week is a long time in politics, so it is not in any politician’s interest to make an inalterable claim, particularly a prediction, in a world that is ever-changing and evolving. So it makes us sit up and think when a politician says something using near-definite terminology. In the middle of all the media furore surrounding what the media has dubbed the upcoming referendum on the ‘Brexit’ – in other words, whether the UK will leave the EU or not – it is therefore necessary to note a statement by Nicola Sturgeon. In a recent interview she said that if the UK were to leave the EU this would ‘almost certainly’ trigger a second Scottish independence referendum.
It has been almost 18 months since the much-hyped Scottish independence referendum landed a victory for the ‘No’ side, yet for many it already seems like a distant memory. Despite the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) new position as Westminster’s third-largest party and Sturgeon’s latest role as the sweetheart of feminist liberals all across the UK, the idea of independence seemed to have been dashed on the rocks. Many people, including the 54 SNP MPs who sit at Westminster, seem to have forgotten that the whole point of the existence of the party was to not be represented in Westminster. Life, in short, has gone on and something that would have been unthinkable two years ago is now the norm.
However, before analysing the repercussions of her remark in a political sense, we should examine the possibility that Sturgeon is correct. Recent statistics, although variable and most likely changing almost day to day, show that by and large a greater percentage of the Scottish population wants to be a part of the EU than the English population. The issue of EU membership was one of the biggest arguments of the ‘No’ side during the Scottish independence referendum campaign; they claimed that it could take years for an independent Scotland to be accepted once more into the EU. The frequency with which this was brought up demonstrates that people do care about the issue. Whether, as Sturgeon claims, it is ‘inevitable’ that those who voted ‘No’ would change their votes if the UK votes in favour of the Brexit can only be a matter for conjecture.
However, it is also more than possible that Sturgeon’s prediction is wrong. A recent poll showed that 27 per cent of SNP voters are supporting a Brexit, which may seem like a small percentage. However, in what is ostensibly the most Europhile party currently at Westminster this forms a considerable proportion. UKIP support is also on the rise in Scotland, although it is far less significant than in many parts of England. Additionally there is the most blatant ideological problem with the issue of a Brexit. The SNP stand on a platform of not wanting to be ruled by anyone outside of Edinburgh. Therefore, while SNP politicians themselves see the political advantage of staying within the EU, why would voters support the first action of a free nation no longer ruled from London to be to immediately grant power over them to Brussels? Many SNP voters who share their liberal, Europhile principles may not see this as an issue, but we must not forget that SNP voters did not make up all of the proportion of people who voted ‘Yes’ in September 2014. Extremist and some right-wing people supported Scottish independence, but would not necessarily be happy for a second independence referendum to be held under the proviso that Scotland will re-join the EU.
Then there is the issue of whether a second independence referendum would be legal at all. David Cameron has said more than once that there will not be a second Scottish independence referendum before 2020 under any circumstances. A very specific series of events led to the possibility of a legal independence referendum being held at all, and in a hypothetical UK separating itself form the EU, it seems even less likely that this would become anyone at Westminster’s priority. However, we must remember those 54 SNP MPs. An independent UK would have to take into account the Scottish voice far more than is currently done.
In any event, Nicola Sturgeon cannot make these definite statements with any authority because a UK outside of the EU is still a hypothetical country, and any political moves in it can only be guess at for now. Quite possibly she felt safe in making such a confident claim because to her, as to many of us, the idea of the UK voting in favour of the Brexit seems so unlikely. Nevertheless, the polls tell us that we cannot rule out the possibility, and more pertinently, whatever the result, we can be certain that the English population who make up over 80 per cent of the UK population almost certainly will have the balance of power in the referendum. If a week is a long time in politics, then it is certain that a lot can happen in months between now and the referendum. For now, we can only wait and see if a Brexit could also lead to what, for lack of a better word, we may as well call a ‘Scexit.’