Clash of the dreadnoughts: Is Theresa May Admiral Jellicoe to Nicola Sturgeon's Scheer?

Clash of the dreadnoughts: Is Theresa May Admiral Jellicoe to Nicola Sturgeon's Scheer?

by William Ross
article from Friday 24, March, 2017

Or alternatively: Ten Thoughts from an SNP 'Leaver'...

THE LAST TWO weeks have seen a British political Battle of Jutland break out between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. This is high stakes stuff. Like Admiral Jellicoe, these politicians can, by one slip, doom their parties, careers and even countries in a single afternoon. How is the battle playing out? Battlefield report: both sides are launching broadsides at close range but in fact this battle will, like Jutland, not be determinative. A long war is in prospect. Here are my thoughts.

1.  The first key question is whether Nicola Sturgeon has a mandate to call Indyref2 in principle given the predictable approval of the Scottish Parliament? It is clear that the answer is "Yes". Sixty-nine MSPs out of 129 were elected on a pro-independence ticket just less than a year ago. The SNP contingent ran on a manifesto allowing Nicola Sturgeon to call another Independence referendum if there was a material change in circumstance. Brexit against Scotland`s was specifically named as being such a change in material circumstance. The Greens were elected on a less definite manifesto allowing the referendum to be called if it was clear that there was a popular demand for it. However, the Greens could abstain on an SNP motion for Indyref2 and not affect the vote.

At least since Margaret Thatcher’s time, there has been a clear UK constitutional convention that Scotland, as a sovereign nation in the (British) Union has a right to secede from the Union. Brexit (staunchly supported by SNP Leavers) is an unquestionable material change in circumstances. To say that Better Together gave absolutely no guarantee that a 2014 "No" vote would guarantee the UK’s continuing membership in the EU is not the same thing as saying that Brexit was expected. Up until now at least, the policy of the Scottish Tories has been (quite understandably) to vigorously oppose a call for Indyref2 in the Scottish Parliament but not to attempt to ultimately block it in Westminster. The Tories cannot and should not argue that there is no mandate in principle. Why change their recent tune?

2.  Despite the Indyref 2 mandate, I think we are clear about the real weakness of the overall SNP position. Sixty-two percent of Scots did NOT vote to remain in the EU, they voted for the UK to remain, a completely different matter. Polls show that most of these Remainers were unionists and most do not want any kind of independent Scotland whether in the EU or not. Even worse for the SNP, almost half of all the 1.1 million forgotten Leavers were SNP supporters. SNP supporters were more likely to vote for Brexit than the supporters of any other major party. You couldn’t make it up! Persistent polling shows no sign of any movement in favour of independence post-Brexit. A poll last week highlighted how euro-sceptic Scots are.

3.  Can I here make the point that almost all SNP Leavers are against having a referendum before Brexit is concluded. We want out of the EU for good and all! We would therefore wait until Brexit is done (Alex Neil) or even wait until after the next scheduled Holyrood elections in 2021.

4.  What has Nicola done? She has massively overplayed her hand. Last week she took her slender mandate and embellished it, claiming the right to fashion the referendum "in Scotland"

forgetting that the terms and timing of a referendum must be agreed with Westminster, as it was last time via the Edinburgh Agreement. Her attempt to insist on a late 2018/early 2109 referendum was totally unreasonable and designed to wreck the British Government’s Brexit strategy. There is no justification for it.

Firstly, we do not know when the Brexit negotiations will be over.

If a "no deal" happens then negotiations could (conceivably) be over in 2017 (though my reading of Article 50 suggests that we stay in for the full two years anyway…), or the terms may indeed be known by Autumn 2018 (as Nicola argues) or things may go down to the wire, or there may be an extension? The timing cannot be known, but what is clear is that if a date of Autumn 2018 or Spring 2019 is now agreed, then the campaign starts now and for the great majority of campaigning time, there will be no clarity on what Brexit means. Additionally, such a campaign will do nothing but burden and hinder UK Brexit negotiators and this is not desirable for anyone.

There is, however, a far more important objection to Nicola’s timing and it is this: it is now clear beyond all peradventure that Scotland will exit the EU either as part of Britain OR as an independent country. As made clear last week by the Commission, Scotland will have to re-apply to join the EU if and when it becomes independent. In other words, we cannot remain. There is therefore no conceivable purpose in our scheduling Indyref2 pre-Brexit. It is all a nonsense.

5.  What has Theresa done? On Thursday 17 March she said "Not now”  This is the right response. Nicola has clearly blinked. Last Saturday (at the SNP Conference) she said that the Scottish Parliament’s decision will be respected (Yes we know it will…), but she is open to a debate on timing. London and Edinburgh should now start talking quietly. I suggest that the vote should take place two years after Brexit is concluded. After all, if there is to be a catastrophic "cliff edge" then it surely must be apparent in the first two years.

6.  Coming back to the issue of EU membership, it seems as if the SNP is now accepting that we cannot remain. What changed since 2014 on this score, you might ask? Alex Salmond is now talking about EFTA membership as a way to return to the Single Market. What needs to be clear is that per the Icelandic Government, we can only start negotiating EFTA membership on day one of independence. after that is achieved we will need to enter separate negotiations with the 27 members of the EU to enter the European Economic Area (and hence the Single Market). Spain might very well make this difficult. We cannot know how long this will take pre-Indyref2. Upon independence we will be dealing with the EU on WTO rules or possibly the terms agreed by the rUK. We will not transition seamlessly into the Single Market on independence and we might be out for years.

7.  If Indyref2, whenever it happens, is to be EU-consistent, the currency issue may well be more difficult this time than last. If our intention is, per Nicola Sturgeon, to aim for eventual full EU membership then we are probably going to need our own currency and Central Bank from the outset. We will also need to commit to using the Euro sometime, though this could be medium to long-term. I have always been in favour of our adopting the Scottish pound as that is the way to genuine independence. However, the SNP has previously favoured shared Sterling as the easier option. But shared Sterling was a major weakness last time around, and I question whether the EU would regard a shared currency and Central Bank with a non-member as being compliant. It seems as if Sterlingisation, in which we adopt Sterling as the Scottish currency with no monetary control, would not meet European criteria. Adopting the Euro, like Montenegro, would doom Indyref2.

8.  The issue of a hard border is an interesting one. Frankly, Unionists are overplaying this. If we envisage a Scotland in either the EU or the Single Market and rUK outside, there is not likely to be a so-called "hard border". This is because no stone will be left unturned to ensure that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am confident that free movement of Irish citizens and UK citizens will continue without border posts but other EU citizens living in or visiting the Republic will need legal authority to visit or live in the UK.

On trade, unless the UK Government is 100% successful in negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, then tariffs will be payable on cross-border trade and goods will have to meet appropriate regulatory standards. The same will inevitably happen with Scotland. However, tariffs could be payable on goods going from Scotland to England and Scotland would, unlike rUK, be subject to all the Single Market rules. This will make cross-border trade more difficult, and rUK is four times as important to us as an export destination than the Single Market! The Single Market amounts to 6% of Scottish GDP. Is it worth all this needless hassle, especially as we can trade with it easily anyway???

9.  When Article 50 notice is served by Theresa May next week, there is likely to be some hard things said between the UK and the EU as negotiations begin. I predict that the UK, and Scotland will become more Anti-EU. Let’s also see what happens to the French election, the Italian banking system and this Summer’s migrant problems.

10.  Finishing off on the theme of Jutland, what worries me is that while Jutland is deemed to be a "draw", it was the High Seas Fleet of Admiral Scheer that returned its home base and did nothing for the remaining two years of the war. How will ‘out’ activists react to being stood down? An unofficial referendum or fresh Holyrood elections are too radical for the SNP and might badly misfire. Likewise Theresa May  could be deterred from calling an early Westminster election because of the fear that the SNP could win another big majority based an explicit commitment to Indyref2.

We live in the most interesting of times.


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