The “Remain” proposition is so straightforward and obvious. Even if there is a majority across Britain for Brexit, there will clearly not be a majority in Scotland. The Scots, who have an historical affinity with the continent, will feel that they are being rail-roaded out of the EU by an English majority, which will be ample grounds for a second Scottish referendum.
The EU might have jibbed at accepting a newly-independent Scotland as a new EU member while Britain remained “IN”, but it might be much more positive about accepting Scotland after Brexit – if only to embarrass Westminster.
So (they say) Brexit will inevitably lead to the break-up of the UK. Or will it? The first point to consider is that the SNP is working itself up to demand a second referendum anyway. Yes, Nicola Sturgeon would undoubtedly try to use Brexit as a pretext, but without Brexit she’ll simply find a different pretext. Brexit may not make too much difference. But the Guardian suggests that some SNP members may vote for Brexit merely on the basis that they think it might provide grounds for a second Scottish independence referendum.
We take it for granted that Scotland is against Brexit. But as in England, opinion north of the border is divided. In 2014, the Scots elected a UKIP man as one of their six MEPs. A recent opinion poll showed support for Brexit at a surprising 27% among SNP voters – who are supposed to be strongly pro-EU. And recent developments in Europe – and Cologne – are likely to drive anti-EU feeling.
Certainly a newly-independent Scotland applying to join the EU would have to buy the whole nine yards. Euro membership. Schengen. The opt-outs negotiated by Britain would no longer be on offer. No doubt some Scots would be expecting generous hand-outs from Brussels. But though Scotland’s per capita GDP is low by Western European standards, it is high compared to the poor counties of Eastern Europe, and still more so compared to would-be accession states like Turkey or Serbia. There will be no cash cornucopia for Edinburgh.
Scotland would also have to accept Brussels’ plans for the resettlement of very large numbers of refugees. Alex Salmond was always very positive about immigration into Scotland, but I suspect that many rank-and-file SNP voters may take a different view, especially after the events of the last few months.
Canny Scots will recall that an independent Scotland could not have bailed out RBS in the banking crisis. They will recall that SNP plans for the Scottish economy were drawn up when oil was $100+ a barrel. An independent Scotland would be in terrible economic trouble with oil at $30, and North Sea rigs lying idle. Indeed if the SNP pursues Alex Salmond’s wild plan to make Scottish energy 100% renewable, the country will be dependent on back-up from England.
Barclays have a unique take on this question. As reported in the Telegraph, they believe that Brexit could result in widespread economic disruption on the continent, and Britain (and the Pound) could be seen as a “safe haven” compared to continental chaos. In this context, the Scots might prefer the relative security of the UK and the Pound Sterling against the uncertainty of the €urozone.
On balance, I feel that risk of a British break-up post-Brexit has been considerably exaggerated. But it’s an integral part of the Remain Campaign’s “Project Fear”.