The issue of Scottish independence has dominated the whole of this decade. From the 2014 Scottish independence vote to the EU referendum, it’s been one of the central causes for debate in Westminster.
Who knew a Conservative leadership campaign could reignite this issue?
However, that’s exactly what it’s done. A tweet from leadership contender Sajid Javid has angered Scottish National Party MPs. In that tweet, he states that he wouldn’t ‘allow a second Scottish independence referendum’ and tells Nicola Sturgeon that she should ‘spend more time improving public services in Scotland, and less time grandstanding’.
Is the Chancellor right? Or should Scotland get another chance to vote for staying in our out of the United Kingdom?
It’s well known that Scotland, as a country, voted Remain in the EU referendum back in 2016. This was by a clearer margin than the overall Brexit vote, with the Scots voting 62 per cent in favour of remaining. Sturgeon has used this as the main justification for why Scotland should get another chance to have an independence referendum, despite having had one just five years ago in 2014.
I suggest the following question really needs to be asked in the House of Commons: can we have a second Brexit referendum without a second independence referendum? If the British people are allowed to change their mind on leaving the European Union, surely Scotland should get the chance to have another vote on independence.
However, if a second EU referendum does take place, which would be supported by the SNP, could they really complain about the result again? (even if Scotland votes Remain once more). For Scottish nationalists, this would make an urgent justification for seeking independence.
There is the possibility that the case for a second independence vote will probably diminish if Remain win in a second Brexit referendum. Nicola Sturgeon backs a second vote on the EU, but what would be her argument for Scottish independence if the 2016 Brexit referendum result is overturned? Surely, it’s unlikely to change drastically from the 2014 ‘Yes’ campaign.
Westminster could argue that only one party is making the case for a second independence referendum, the SNP. But the Scottish National Party would counter that by pointing out that they are still the largest Scottish party in the House of Commons, supported by their strong EU election results not long ago.
On the other hand, the SNP did lose 21 seats in the last general election in 2017 — down by over a third from the 2015 election. Not forgetting, also, that the 2017 election took place after the Brexit referendum. If they had held onto the 56 seats (out of the 59 in the House of Commons) that they won in the 2015 vote, they would have had a stronger case for another independence vote — but that wasn’t the outcome.
It’s unlikely that a Conservative or potential future Labour government would ever concede to another vote. Scotland voting for independence would be a catastrophe for any prime minister; something that could see a huge and permanent drop in their party’s seats in the next general election. And that’s why the Tories are so reluctant to allow this to happen and have not yet buckled under SNP pressure.
Even if this vote was promised in the future, what would be the benefit of promising a referendum after a general election has taken place? The Conservative Party wouldn’t gain any pro-independence voters, they would still vote SNP as expected. This would be a dead-end situation for any prime minister who’s pro-union.
But, does this mean that another ‘No’ vote would put this issue to rest for generations to come? Probably not. This is a debate that’s only going to grow more intense if Brexit is delivered, and will remain active even if it isn’t — regardless of the governing party.
Maybe it is time to risk it and put the issue to another vote? If not, the natural alternative is to do what Sajid Javid is doing: never allow this to happen.