Scottish Independence bid could have an impact on Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon: Told to wait for independence vote

By George Lyon

Since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union last June, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been convinced that Scotland’s vote to remain in the bloc provides perfect grounds to re-run the previously failed independence referendum.

The SNP has subsequently played out a careful strategy of being seen to engage constructively with the UK on Brexit, while simultaneously complaining bitterly that the UK has ignored every proposal put forward irrespective of its feasibility.

This culminated in a vote in the Scottish Parliament on Indyref2 in which the Scottish Greens voted with the SNP to give the Scottish Government a majority. The vote called on the UK Government to agree Section 30 powers allowing a referendum on Scottish independence to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s response has been blunt and direct, insisting that “now is not the time”.

She has argued the Scottish people cannot make an informed decision on independence until the Brexit negotiations are finished, and that the process of allocating the powers taken back from Brussels to either the UK Parliament or the devolved Parliament and Assemblies is complete.

 

The Scottish Government responded by accusing the UK Government of stealing Scotland’s devolved powers.

 

Voting intentions

How long that might take is anyone’s guess so at the moment we have a constitutional standoff between Westminster and Holyrood.

All the polling evidence to date suggests that the majority of Scottish voters agree with Prime Minister May’s contention that now is not the time.

Surprisingly the SNP argument that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU by English votes has produced no change in Scottish voting intentions, with polls consistently showing 55 per cent of voters support staying in the UK with 45 per cent for leaving.

Recent polling has also suggested that Scots want to leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK and they want to see an end to freedom of movement, contradicting the view put forward by Nicola Sturgeon that Scots want a softer Brexit.

One of the key questions that arises from the political standoff on Scottish independence is the impact it will have on the Brexit negotiations.

As far as the negotiations with the EU are concerned it would appear to have little or no impact whatsoever as member states led by Spain have made it very clear that this is an internal issue for the UK to sort out.

As a result the Scottish Government’s concerted efforts to secure a special Brexit deal for Scotland have fallen on deaf ears in Brussels.

The UK Government has also come out and formally rejected the SNP’s proposal for a special deal for Scotland with Prime Minister May insisting we will leave the EU on a UK basis.

The SNP strategy is now to target the Great Reform Bill as part of their campaign to try and build support for independence by arguing that all powers returned from Brussels should be given to Scotland.

They will also argue that any attempt to share the powers will be a power grab because many areas such as agriculture, fishing and the environment are already fully devolved.

 

Artificial barriers

A huge row has already broken out when the UK Government suggested that there should be an overarching UK agriculture and environment policy to replace the EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to ensure there were no artificial barriers created in the UK single market.

The Scottish Government responded by accusing the UK Government of stealing Scotland’s devolved powers.

The UK Government has a very small majority and serious divisions exist within its own ranks over Brexit, so there is substantial scope for the fifty-six SNP MPs to cause real difficulties for the Government in trying to pass the legislation.

For the business community, the Great Reform Bill is key as it will determine the framework under which they operate in a post-Brexit world.

Therefore, given how difficult politics has become, there is a real risk of delays, uncertainty and poor outcomes from the legislation which could have a real impact on business prospects.