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Analysis

Could SNP be catalyst that lets UK change its mind?

by Kirsty Hughes | 27.11.2017

Scotland voted 62% remain in the Brexit referendum. But the Scottish government, and Scottish National Party politicians, are not yet backing demands for a further vote when we know what Brexit means. This is despite Nicola Sturgeon telling the New Statesman in September that another EU referendum “probably gets more and more difficult to resist”.

Why the hesitation?

The simple answer is that the politics of independence cuts across Brexit politics. The SNP’s stated aim is independence in the EU. But after calling for a second independence referendum in March, Sturgeon backed off when the SNP lost 21 MPs in the June general election and when there was no visible “Brexit bounce” in support for independence. The SNP, still easily the third largest party at Westminster with 35 MPs, has instead focused on trying to soften Brexit and protect devolved powers by amending the EU Withdrawal Bill now going through Parliament.

One reason for caution is that around a third of SNP voters are “yes-leavers”, who support independence from the UK and want to quit the EU as well. With the support for independence stubbornly stuck at around 44%, SNP politicians are wary of alienating this constituency.

The SNP do want, eventually, another “indyref”. So the principle of another EU referendum shouldn’t be problematic. But an EU referendum on the Brexit deal is tricky. It might set a precedent implying that, after a successful “indyref2”, there should be a further referendum on the divorce deal between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

But they could simply support a repeat EU referendum (not on the deal) and avoid this concern.

SNP politicians are also reluctant to tell English voters what to do – including to think again on Brexit. If there was a successful indyref2, the SNP wants English voters to accept the result not dispute it. Yet Sturgeon argued in the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum that Scotland should have a veto on any decision to leave – a bigger demand than asking English and Welsh voters to think again.

The first minister has proposed holding an indyref2 once there is a Brexit deal. If the SNP also supported a further EU referendum, they might need to wait until that happened before holding indyref2. So that causes some hesitation too.

But, in the end, Brexit will damage the Scottish economy, whether Scotland is independent or not. And independence would be much simpler to manage if both the UK and Scotland remained in the EU.

SNP support for another EU referendum, on its own, wouldn’t be enough to make it happen. But it would put pressure on Labour, in a way that the Liberal Democrats alone cannot. If the UK government fell before Brexit, the SNP might end up holding the balance of power at Westminster, so its position on a further EU referendum could be critical.

The Scottish government is currently searching for ways to minimise the damage of Brexit. In the face of an increasingly chaotic Brexit, it is time the SNP put Scotland’s interests first and backed a further vote on staying in the EU.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Could SNP be catalyst that lets UK change its mind?”

  • “Why the hesitation? The simple answer is that the politics of independence cuts across Brexit politics.”

    Nope that is not it. The reality is that thereare still way too many Mail/Express/Sun reading people who still fervently believe that Brexitland will be wonderful. Until some more of the brown stuff hits the fan, they are not going to get it.

    That is the conondrum. How do you convince them before it is too late?

  • @bjsalba
    Do we need to convince Mail/Express/Sun readers? I’d put that down as (mostly) a lost cause. Surely we are better off focusing on convincing referendum abstainees and wavering leave voters? That and ensuring the young are actively engaged.