Nicola Sturgeon has today reaffirmed her commitment to taking an independent Scotland back into the EU. Fair’s fair, she’s a masterful political operator: there is not yet a guarantee of a second referendum being held – and yet the First Minister is already talking about what she’ll do after securing, fighting and winning it. Which, of course, makes its happening seem a much less contentious issue than it rightly is.
Political subterfuge aside, however, Sturgeon simply has no mandate to take an independent Scotland back into the EU. The SNP’s 2016 election manifesto, so often presented as Sturgeon’s dispenser of authority to pursue a second referendum, made no mention of it – and neither did that of the Greens, upon whom the viability of her government rests.
Ah, of course – the EU referendum! How could I forget that 62% of Scots voted to remain – surely this is a mandate to return Scotland to the bosom of an integrated Europe? Well, no; Sturgeon’s own logic is self-defeating here. Her justification for pursuing a second independence referendum is the “material change in circumstances” arising from Brexit since the first vote – but the same logic applies to the aftermath of a second referendum. When Scottish voters took to the polls on 23rd June last year, they delivered a resounding majority in favour of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union – but not the re-entry of an independent Scotland. This may seem like splitting hairs, but there are grave differences that together comprise an irrefutable “material change in circumstances”.
Let’s take currency. As part of a United Kingdom remaining in the EU, Scotland would be free to continue using the pound to its heart’s content. An independent Scotland seeking reaccession to the European Union, however, would almost certainly be required to join the euro, and share in its multitudinous difficulties.
Independent Scotland would also be required to join the Schengen zone, the scheme that allows border-free travel between participating countries – and the United Kingdom’s opt-out from which is credited by many as an integral factor in our escape from the terrorist atrocities that have plagued Germany and France of late. It cannot be honestly claimed that this alone is not a significant change.
This isn’t even to mention the diminished voice that Scotland would have in Brussels. When Scotland voted to remain in the EU last year, it voted to do so as a part of the member state with the third-largest population, and second largest economy. If Scotland voted for independence today, and rejoined the EU tomorrow (which it wouldn’t; it would take several years), then it would be returning as the 20th most populous, and with only the 14th greatest economic might.
There are clearly stark differences between a Scotland in the EU as part of the UK, and as an individual member state. Scotland voted for the former, but gave no consent to the latter. That Scotland would have to change currency, surrender control over its borders, and have significantly less clout in Brussels together – if not alone – amount to the “material change in circumstances” that its governing party has been so hasty to claim when expedient. Nicola Sturgeon next faces reelection in 2021 – but unless she engineers an election before then, her promise to take an independent Scotland back into the EU is wholly illegitimate, and is an egregiously hypocritical defiance of her own logic.