Leader comment: Scottish independence vote back on table

Posted By: July 11, 2016

The Scotsman. Monday, July 11, 2016

The SNP’s call for a second referendum are heating up but are hard to square with the cold realities of our massive deficit.

Far from subsiding, the rhetoric for a second Scottish referendum is growing louder. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, has raised the temperature with a declaration that another vote on leaving the UK is “exactly what we will do” if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of securing a de facto membership of the EU are dashed. His remarks come hard on the heels of a newspaper article at the weekend in which Sir Nicholas Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, argued that the case for Scottish independence “suddenly looks a lot stronger” in the wake of the UK-wide vote to leave the EU.

Sir Nicholas, widely considered a staunch critic of SNP proposals for currency sharing with the rest of the UK in the 2014 referendum, says there is now “a golden opportunity for proponents of Scottish independence to reappraise their economic prospectus.

Mr. Robertson has now added further fuel with hints that the SNP might could ditch its policy of sharing the pound in a UK currency union in the event of independence, insisting a “range” of other options are available. These are likely to include a newly created Scottish currency which could shadow the pound or possibly the Euro currency as part of the progression to full membership.

SNP leaders insist that the EU referendum outcome in which a majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU has put a second Scottish independence referendum on the table. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Scots now support independence.

Mr. Robertson declared yesterday that “we have absolutely no intention of leaving … We will do everything to try and protect our position and if that means that we will have a second referendum in Scotland so that we are able to remain in the EU, that’s exactly what we will do.”

The hope within the SNP camp is that a second Scottish referendum could portray independence as the “safe” option. But there are major obstacles to this, and senior figures within the party have warned that a quickfire referendum after Brexit may not be popular with voters wearying of divisive constitutional politics.

Arguably the bigger obstacle would be the reaction of the Scottish business community likely to recoil at the prospect of another prolonged period of uncertainty. Of particular concern would be the prospect of having to cope with a separate currency, bearing mind that the vast bulk of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the UK rather than the Eurozone. This would add to the costs and paperwork of doing business across the border.

Not least of the problems raised by an early second referendum would be the requirements necessary for full EU membership, particularly with regard to the fiscal position. Scotland’s budget deficit is currently some three times higher than that for the UK as a percentage of GDP, and without a dramatic recovery in the oil price, spending ambitions will almost certainly be affected. The rhetoric may have heated up. The economic and fiscal realities remain cool.