Into the chaotic shambles that is Brexit one almost cast iron certainty is emerging, that there will be a second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU.
The UK is wed to a political system of governance that no longer works and an economic dogma that has been proven wrong and seems unable of reform. Harking back to an imagined self-importance and global influence that doesn’t match reality, it has voted for Brexit, allowing ego and a Trump-esque outdated British nationalism to lead us to an act of international and economic self harm. Independence was rejected by many with a heavy heart. They felt (wrongly, it emerges) that the UK offered more economic certainty and that more powers would mean Scotland could protect itself from the diverging political direction of Westminster. That hope has been ruthlessly exposed as a myth by Brexit, which has laid the bare utter powerlessness of the Scottish Government to protect us when the UK is determined to damage Scotland’s interests for its own narrow-minded agenda.
The key question in 2014 for the heavy hearted was what option offers most certainty. The only certainties post-Brexit UK can offer Scotland is uncertainty and the growing dominance of a deeply negative British nationalism and xenophobia that is the antithesis of the international civic, environmental and socially enlightened independence movement. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Union will have a weaker argument in indyref2 and if the economics of independence can be better explained, and EU membership or access to the single market made more of a certainty by the Yes campaign, then the No campaign won’t have a leg to stand on. The truth is that there is very little choice in the paths each party and nation can take.
Theoretically Theresa May has three choices: 1) Allow Brexit to be stopped by a Parliamentary vote or more likely a demand for a second referendum on the result of negotiations. However that would mean two years of negotiations, six months campaigning and then in the unlikely event of a rejoin vote (we are out after two years) the UK would have to re-apply for membership and probably be told it’s not welcome back. Chaos and uncertainty would dominate trade and economics for 3-4 years, and so even if the UK voted to rejoin, Ukip would triangulate the Leave vote and probably form the next UK Government. 2) She could go for for a soft Brexit, remaining in the single market and the customs union, with freedom of immigration, and follow all the EU’s rules without having any influence on them whilst paying a trade levy akin to the current EU membership fee. Once again Ukip and at least half of the Conservative membership would label it a betrayal of democracy and she’d face the next General Election staring down the barrel of a Ukip/rebel Tory majority with a mandate to dismantle the deal she just negotiated. 3) Or she can go for a hard Brexit, position herself as the champion of democracy by respecting the result, showing strong leadership, triangulate the Ukip vote and ensure Tory majorities for generations as Labour disintegrates. A true believer in her own political dogma, she will believe that this will allow her to cut through the Brexit jungle with cold Tory neo-capitalist steel and rebuild Britain in her own image. You see she really has no choice at all.
Neither does Nicola Sturgeon. The UK is taking Scotland out of the EU against its will and her manifesto said that would trigger indyref2, but she can’t call it as Brexit hasn’t happened yet and despite the almost mathematical certainty of a hard Brexit, she can’t fight a battle till she knows where it’s going to be, who will be on her side and what weaponry the opposition have. That is why the Scottish Government has to examine all options and keep the door open to the heavy-hearted No voters and show them that it is Westminster and not Holyrood that is closing the door in their faces. If the UK Brexits and Scotland can somehow maintain EEA or EFTA membership then we would be leaving the political union element (if there is such a thing) of the EU but not the trading union, thus providing a case study for independence, leaving a political union but not damaging the economy by maintaining the trading union. However if a special deal then is done, Scotland would have a massive economic advantage over the rest of the UK. As many as 50,000 finance jobs could move here from London, major companies would relocate here to access the single market, our economy would grow faster, our deficit shrink more quickly than the rUK and increased EU trade would compensate for the rUK economy entering a self-imposed recession. Devolution max/near federalism would be required to make such a deal workable and so Scotland would be all but independent at the point of Brexit. It would be just a matter of time before Scotland’s status as a fully sovereign nation was rubber-stamped, as there could be no argument made for rejoining a self destructing UK.
So just as Nicola Sturgeon has no choice but to seek a special deal maintaining some form of access to the single market, Theresa May has no choice but to make absolutely sure Scotland doesn’t get that deal. Finally neither UK or the EU can afford to lose trade, so they can’t afford tariffs, but the EU must punish the UK for Brexit, so Guy Verhofstadt also has little choice but agree a Brexit that allows limited single-market access. However that deal will almost certainly also mean a loss of UK financial passporting and many other smaller economic penalties for the UK to protect the EU. It therefore looks likely that some form of heavily caveated UK access to the single market will be agreed and so Scotland as an independent EU member would be able to maintain and boost trade with the UK and EU simultaneously making independence truly inevitable.
If a super-hard Brexit were agreed with hard borders and tariffs then EFTA / EEA membership is the best option for an independent Scotland, hence Nicola Sturgeon is keen to promote it as a credible option right now. It’s the economic lifeboat we will need to board if the UK decides to steer the good ship Britannia full speed at the super-hard Brexit iceberg.