Expert View

Time for SNP to get on front foot on Brexit

by Kirsty Hughes | 25.09.2018

Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.

The Scottish government has been cautious in their Brexit strategy in the last 18 months, since Nicola Sturgeon’s aborted call for a second independence referendum in March 2017. The emphasis has been more on a soft Brexit than on halting Brexit; and the SNP, whose 35 MPs in Westminster make it an important player in the parliamentary battles ahead, has shifted only partially towards supporting a People’s Vote.

There has, though, been a flurry of SNP comments on Brexit in recent days. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week that if there isn’t a soft Brexit, there should be no Brexit. This is  tougher than the more usual SNP formulation of simply preferring that Brexit wasn’t happening.

Sturgeon, and Brexit secretary Michael Russell, have also insisted that it isn’t the SNP blocking a people’s vote on Brexit. But, at the same time, Sturgeon has said she won’t be an “enthusiastic advocate” of another EU vote without a recognition that Scotland should have another independence referendum if there were then a second leave vote. Does this “not blocking” formulation mean the SNP would vote for another referendum, rather than just abstain? That’s still not entirely clear.

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The First Minister also called in the last week for Article 50 to be extended if the UK faces either a “no deal” Brexit or a “blind Brexit” with very little detail about the future UK-EU relationship. And Russell said once again that any special deal for Northern Ireland should be available for Scotland too.

But there’s a lack of clarity and some inconsistencies here in these multiple statements.

A blind Brexit is problematic but more detail, as demanded by Sturgeon, won’t necessarily make Brexit more palatable. Delaying Article 50 to negotiate a more detailed exposition of a Canada-style deal won’t help Scotland. And given that May is highly unlikely to bring back a soft Brexit deal, then why prioritise delay in the Article 50 talks as a demand?

So what is the SNP strategy for the crucial weeks ahead? Sturgeon is due to give a major speech on Europe in Edinburgh on October 2. Perhaps this will clarify her policy.

But for now current SNP policy statements point in different directions. Is the priority to stop Brexit if it’s not soft – in which case how? Or is the priority to demand an extension to Article 50 or a special deal for Scotland? But if May’s deal does pass at Westminster, there won’t be any reason to extend it and Brexit will happen. And if the deal doesn’t pass, or there’s no deal, the choice will surely be between a general election and/or a People’s Vote – and then to ask for an extension of Article 50. So which would the SNP prefer – and would it vote for both?

If the SNP turn their mixture of Brexit policies into a clear strategy, they would be on the front foot. They could denounce the growing chaos of the Brexit talks, call to stop Brexit and argue for a People’s Vote. It would be strong and coherent. And it would show that Scotland is not just standing by as the Brexit process implodes.  

This article draws on a longer version available on the Scottish Centre on European Relations website www.scer.scot

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Time for SNP to get on front foot on Brexit”

  • There is one very serious problem for the SNP about another referendum on leaving the EU- one which gives voters a chance to make up their minds about the actual terms of leaving. Exactly the same process would quite rightly be demanded for any attempt to take Scotland out of the UK.

    In 2014 Alex Salmond sprayed around meaningless promises about how the UK would deal with Scotland on a similar scale to the Brexiteers about easy deals with the EU. It nearly worked in 2014 and did in 2016. The last thing nationalists (UK or Scottish ) want is a reality check on their fantasies and lies. One of their own, Jim Sillars, has pointed this out in explicit terms.

  • I am a strong SNP supporter but I do not agree with Nicola Sturgeon’s positioning herself. She has to come out in favour of another Referendum/Peoples Vote to save this country and the UK from falling into terrible decline; Her agenda I know is to hold off long enough to try for another Scottish Referendum. I vote YES in our Scottish Referendum and would no doubt vote that again. I would only vote that again if the SNP tried to save all the country. This is not a time to dispute our nationalistic feelings re Scotland – that is for a later date, not now. So Nicola come out and support, because if you do not – you will loose the support of many, many present supporters of the SNP.