Economics of Independence ScotRef

The Brexit black comedy and Scotland’s golden opportunity

With Andrea Leadsom withdrawing for the Conservative leadership race Theresa May is now sure to be the new (unelected) PM of the UK and my life just got harder.  You see I have a new hobby. It’s called “trying to explain what’s happened in the last two weeks in UK politics to overseas journalists”. The trouble is it’s like trying to describe the plot of a complex black comedy to someone who doesn’t get black comedy, except this is real life and we are all extras in a cursed play called Brexit. The cast has precious few heroes but a plethora of idiotic and often cowardly villains causing problems then running away.

In the last few weeks the UK’s standing in the world has nosedived faster than the value of the Pound and the prevailing mood in the mainstream media after Brexit seems to be one of Bregret. Cameron has resigned and the new PM will be one that won’t have been chosen by the electorate; ironic given one of the main reasons argued for Brexit was that EU lawmakers are unelected. As it happens, the EU lawmakers are all elected by proportional representation – a more democratic system than Westminster – and the UK has roughly 800 unelected Lords more than the EU has commissioners.

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Theresa May will be the next (unelected) PM

The next PM will be Theresa May, supported by her parliamentary colleagues but not by party members throughout the country. Her main contender was the committed Brexiter Andrea Leadsom who claimed that as leader she would be “the new Margaret Thatcher”. Whilst in Scotland that is sufficient to bar you from ever holding public office, apparently in the Tory Party it can catapult you from unknown to potential unelected PM in a couple of weeks.

Ironically, Theresa May – who actually is the new Margaret Thatcher – wants to be PM so that she can manage the process of leaving the EU. She says she was against Brexit but I suspect she failed to campaign effectively against it because, privately, she was in favour. The fact that the Tories think this makes her an ideal Conservative leader contrasts with the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is facing a leadership revolt for behaving in exactly the same way. At last there is a policy difference between Westminster Labour and Westminster Conservatives but I am dammed if I understand why.

Cameron is not the only one to retire from the field. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have joined him in abdicating responsibility for sorting out this unholy omnishambles that Brexit has unleashed. You would have thought that at least one of them would have had a plan. The press went berserk at Alex Salmond for not having a plan B for currency during the independence referendum, but no one even had a plan A this time around.  This is important, as the current economic instability has been caused not by Brexit itself but largely by the vacuum in political leadership at Westminster. If, two weeks ago, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and George Osborne had stood together and said, “Here is the transition plan. Step by step, we have thought through every contingency. The transition to a new PM will be swift, and we will work together to make the best of this situation,” then the economic turmoil might have been blunted. Instead we have calls for a second EU referendum from many of the same people who said that, as they are one-off events, Scotland can’t have a second independence referendum.

Canada's Toronto Star says Nicola Sturgeon is the only politician to keep her head after the Brexit vote

Canada’s Toronto Star says Nicola Sturgeon is the only politician to keep her head after the Brexit vote

Up steps Nicola Sturgeon, empowered by the fact that every Scottish council area voted to stay in the EU. She convinced the Scottish Parliament to back her trip to the EU to explore all options. This even led to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper calling for Sturgeon to become the UK prime minister – see what I mean about black comedy? That’s funny, no, no it’s not sad, it’s funny, get it?

However, even the FM can’t escape the all-engulfing irony in a post-Brexit world. Even as many in Westminster are calling for the EU referendum result to be ignored, as it was generated by lies and misleading statements, she still has to respect the result of the 2014 referendum – largely won through lies and misleading statements.

Scotland staying in the EU while also staying in the UK – the “reverse-Greenland” option – is so unlikely that the idea’s only purpose is to exhaust all avenues. This is a huge problem for Ruth Davidson, who managed to overtake Labour and become the second largest party in Scotland by making the Tories a single-issue party, promising to stand up for the UK no matter what. Only months later Davidson has found the UK disintegrating and self-destructing due to the actions of her own party. Maybe her next manifesto will promise to oppose the Westminster Conservatives? The Scottish Conservatives are becoming the new Labour, or no wait a minute New Labour became the Conservatives and now apparently Labour and Tory MPS are in secret talks to launch a pre EU Party which means new Labour are the new conservative lab… oh I give up

When Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy made it clear that if we are part of the UK when it officially leaves the EU then we exit too, unionist newspapers scream that it’s “a blow to Sturgeon” when actually that’s what she really wants. Scotland, it seems, is welcome in the EU, but only if we become an independent country before the UK leaves. Then we should be seen as the continuing state with no need to re-apply, so no veto on our slightly rejigged membership deal.

To be sure of this the UK Government must allow separate negotiations for Scotland. If they don’t, they trap Scotland in a Brexit we didn’t vote for and pretty much guarantee independence. If they do, Scotland will have a clear roadmap to independence within the EU, also pretty much guaranteeing independence. A phrase with the words “hard place” and “rock” comes to mind.

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European Council President Donald Tusk has said there will be no single market ‘à la carte, meaning access to the single market would mean freedom of movement

Almost nothing makes sense, but you do get a sense that the First Minster has spied an opportunity not only to justify indyref2 but to do it in a way that cajoles a large number of past No then Remain voters into the Yes camp.

anyone in any doubt about how fundamental Brexit changes the Scottish independence question need only read Sir Nicholas MacPherson in the times – the former Permanent Secretary for the Treasury broke all sorts ion rules on cicil service impartiality in 2014 criticising the SNP’s currency union idea has now said that post Brexit offers independence campaigners a golden opportunity and that the economic case has changed fundamentally.

Spare a thought for the Brexit voters, mostly in the rest of the UK, who wanted to take their country back, despite no one ever taking it from them in the first place. In about four or five years when the UK eventually has a new EU trade deal that keeps borders open, follows EU regulations, makes no difference to immigration and costs the same as EU membership without any grants, and with Scotland out of the UK, they will wonder what it was all for.

A black comedy indeed. So the next time someone asks “How did this European debacle actually start in the first place?”, I am just going to say: “A bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry”.

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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • Sturgeon should have done more on the land reform file than she has; the SNP, and Scots as a whole, are naive about immigration; Sturgeon has a strange view if any on TIPP and its impact on the NHS among other things. Why leave one master to join another?

  • It’s a mix of Yes Minister, The Thick of It, Monty Python, and the US version of House of Cards, written by scriptwriters who all hate each other’s guts.

    The industrial-strength hypocrisy makes your eyes water. Yes, where was the forensic picking over by the media of any Brexit plan? On either side? Both ‘official’ campaigns were purple with exaggeration and gusty with hot air and windmilling arms.

    Thank goodness for Alyn Smith MEP and Ian Hudghton MEP, for their excellent Wee Bleu Book that set out the case for Remain with calmness, facts and good sense. Many of my friends south of the border were very glad of it too, even though it was geared towards Scotland.

    As the excellent Blair Jenkins put it so well before the ref in 2014, if you were an independent country being invited to join with England in a union, would you join? Given the current climate I’d say the alternative that involves a blunt spoon and one’s spleen would seem infinitely preferable.

  • Unfortunately, Spain will never agree to an Independent Scotland being in the EU as they would see that as a sign that Catalonia could get the same deal if it breaks away from Spain.

    • If a deal is done that Scotland is a continuing state then there are no veto’s – this is what has been discussed informally but the UK gets to say if Scotland is allowed to negotiate this formally before any independence referendum. The SNP have been saying in the last few days that Scotland case is a separate one and doesn’t set a precedent for the Spanish regions and I assume thats part of a deal for Spain to remove objections because Scotland out means Basque country fishing fleet can’t enter our waters and that would promote Basque separatism – its difficult and complex but far less so and far less economically risky than staying with he UK as it Brexits.

  • This all reminds me of the spoof American programme, ‘Soap’ where they gave a long complex explanation of the back story and then said, ‘Confused? You will be.’ The difference is that this is not fiction but it is weirder and more confusing.

  • Great post! You’re doing a great job of communicating the insanity that is the UK post-brexit, so please do keep it up!

    Watching from the sidelines, here in Atlanta GA, I’m perplexed by the utter lack of *seriousness* on display at Westminster: in direct counterpoint to the behaviour and actions of the majority of the Scottish Government. It appears that the only grown-ups left in WM are the SNP MPs (many of whom are brand new to WM politics) which is a shocking state of affairs.

    The ascension of Theresa May, Thatcher mk2 but with even less soul, strikes me as the final nail in the coffin that is the UK. Hagiography notwithstanding, Thatcher and her neoliberal, supracapitalist policies were appallingly bad for the UK as a whole, destroyed much of Scotland’s infrastructure and industry, and her legacy of euroskepticism has been the albatross around the neck of a better, stronger Europe. May, if anything, appears to be even worse.

    My wife and I are excited at the prospect of an independent Scotland which provides significant leadership opportunities for those of us who’ve moved beyond branch management. We will soon have the choice to STAY IN SCOTLAND: a much more attractive prospect for many of us than the previous binary (London or Abroad).

    I’m trying to get back as soon as I can, so I can be resident and vote in favour of the Scottish Nation, a fully independent member of the wider European community.

    (So if anyone is looking for an HR/IT Executive with large programme leadership experience and decades of consulting knowledge… drop me a line)

  • With Osborne and Javid off trying to negotiate trade deals with USA and India, I wonder if the EU will cry foul to the new PM, and demand A50?

    May is talking nice warm words atm, but as we know, that’s just standard operating procedure, before she rips up Human Rights, and Workers Rights. Big business will be applying pressure, the only way to get the economy moving is to scrap minimum wage.

    I think it surely just comes down to timing now for indyref2.

    Winter is coming.

    • EU were clear UK can wait till new PM in autumn to implement article 50 but now its a coronation I assume it will happen in weeks. If May calls a GE (I wouldn’t if I were her) then indyref gets put back but other than that than my money is on June 2017or Sept 2017.

  • Brilliant Gordon.

    I look forward to an inexorable rise in the polls for independence. Even the thought of a hard border at Gretna does not worry me now, and that is unlikely if the Brexit negotiations continue with the single market.

    • Any deal done by UK to access the single market will simultaneously do away with need for border and be financially worse for Scotland than membership.

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