THE LAST TEN DAYS have been quite interesting regarding the prospects of Indy Ref 2. First of all, veteran nationalist (and Leaver) Jim Fairlie was quoted as saying that he would vote "No" if the Indy Ref 2 question presupposed our "remaining in the EU". Subsequently, there was a leak to the effect that Nicola would be offered an Indy Ref 2 after Brexit is over, which offer she predictably knocked back citing our need to remain in the EU Single Market.
Then Oliver Letwin, from the heart of the Westminster Tory establishment, confirmed that yes, we will exit the Customs Union and the Single Market. Philip Hammond confirmed that Scotland would have no special Brexit deal. Next the EU Commission confirmed that it will not negotiate with Scotland separately over Brexit. Then Alex Neil came out in favour of a post-Brexit Indy Ref 2.
According to Nicola, Indy Ref 2 is "very much on the table" because it could keep Scotland in the EU as the "remaining" UK. In order for this to have even a theoretical possibility of working Scotland must exit the UK before Brexit is complete. The SNP government has boxed itself in to a very narrow dangerous space. I have these thoughts.
1. Despite arguments made by luminaries such as Jim Sillars on mandate/legality, I believe that Nicola can call a referendum IN PRINCIPLE if a majority in the Scottish Parliament approve. Anyway let's give her the benefit of the doubt on that one.
2. In order to "remain", Scotland would have to negotiate terms with the EU. But any such negotiations are impossible for a raft of reasons: (a) the EU has stated that it will not conduct them; (b) Scotland, being non-sovereign in the eyes of international law, has no standing to conduct the negotiations; (c) even if the negotiations could somehow happen in principle, they will not because Spain, France and Belgium will veto them; and (d) even if they did somehow happen, the very fact of there being Scottish-EU negotiations would involve the EU in seeking to dissolve the UK with whom it would be simultaneously attempting to conduct the most important negotiation in the history of the EU! The UK will never authorise these negotiations.
3. If the necessary Scottish-EU negotiations cannot take place (as I argue), then any "Remain" Indy Ref 2 must take place on terms that cannot be known. For this reason alone, I doubt that any Indy Ref 2 "Remain" referendum could take place at all. If it did we could not know the UK's Brexit terms in time.
4. Nonetheless, let us assume that it somehow can take place. Scotland must be out of the UK before Brexit happens (probably in 2019). Given time-scales, it would be impossible to agree the legal procedures for Indy Ref 2, hold the campaign, win it and negotiate Scottish independence from the UK before Brexit.
5. On the assumption that all these difficulties can be surmounted, let us go on to consider two major campaign issues that will be practically insuperable. On currency, the easiest winning position for the SNP would be (as last time) a currency union with the UK. Is it conceivable that the EU would allow Scotland to remain in the EU using the currency of a former-member? In these circumstances, will anyone believe that RUK would agree a currency union? If Sterling is unworkable, we have two other options, the Euro or the Scottish Pound. The adoption of the Euro would be fatal to Indy Ref 2. The Scottish Pound is actually the soundest solution but can we be sure that we would not ultimately have to adopt the Euro?
The second campaign issue will be free trade and free movement of people to and with RUK. Because of the Irish situation, there is likely to be a future precedent for free movement of people. However, unless the UK negotiates complete tariff-free access to the Single Market, there will be a trading border (even if only virtual) at Hadrian's Wall. We will not be certain about the latter issue until Brexit is complete. Fatally, that could mean trade barriers with RUK.
6. All of this fails to consider what is likely to happen to the EU between now and 2019. The EU trading block has been failing for years and much of Europe is mired in near permanent recession. Next year alone it must ride the issues of possible new Italian elections with the EU sceptics taking power and de-stabilising the Euro along with a potential collapse of the Italian banking system; euro-sceptics taking power in the Netherlands and holding an EU referendum (Nexit?); the possible election of Marine Le Pen in France, the less likely defeat of Angela Merkel in Germany and just as importantly a resurgence of the migration crisis as the EU-Turkey deal founders. Why take it from me? Not for nothing is Guy Verhofstadt's new book called "Europe's Last Chance".
7. Lastly, this second indy referendum, unlike the last time, would be about a bitter separation across the island of Britain with nationalists siding with Brussels against England. Is this a campaign we want to trigger?.
Writing as a life-long nationalist, I have a real fear that the SNP Government will be broken on the wheel of Brexit. It reminds me of the 1650 battle of Dunbar. The superior forces of General David Leslie (pictured), urged on by his Kirk zealots, charged down the hill of Dunbar at Cromwell below, only to be routed. Is Theresa May now silently mouthing, with Cromwell: "The Lord hath delivered them into our hands"?