by Voice Reporter • Since the Brexit victory First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has, by common consent, played a blinder in sharp contrast with Tory and Labour disarray. She is also playing for time.
Carefully crafted statements about a second independence referendum being ‘on the table’, commission of experts on EU membership, preparations for legislation on a independence referendum alongside defiant statements about defending Scottish interests are all good politics—for now.
However, as the Voice went to press, an early indication of the formidable difficulties standing in the way of keeping Scotland in the EU post-Brexit came with the Spanish Prime Minster Rajoy voicing his opposition to a Scottish negotiation with the bloc.
Rajoy’s opposition is clearly based on nipping in the bud any such moves within the current Spanish state from Catalonia and the Basque Country but it is surely just the first such statement from EU leaders many of whom are not minded to soften the blows of Brexit for the UK.
Despite standing ovations in the European Parliament for SNP member Alyn Smith’s pro-EU speech—in sharp contrast to the sub-Daily Mail ravings of Farage in the same debate—the reality is that the path to keeping Scotland in the EU while still a part of the UK is strewn with obstacles.
However in many ways this is not entirely unwelcome to the SNP leadership which has for some time now adopted an essentially gradualist road to independence which envisages SNP competence convincing indy doubters over time to move to Yes.
Armed with a decisive Remain vote in Scotland, Sturgeon had her fellow anti-independence but pro-Remain party leaders in an arm lock when she demanded unity in defence of Scottish EU membership, with even the arch-unionist Tories forced to abstain in the parliamentary vote that delivered it.
So a period of intricate time consuming ‘negotiations’ on Scotland’s future playing out over months, even years and yielding some concessions, lie ahead and dovetail with the long term SNP approach of only going for a referendum which is almost a certain victory.
This is why the language on the second referendum has been so carefully crafted to leave it a possibility on the one hand but not setting it in stone on the other.
Such an approach also bridges the reality gap behind the rhetoric over the EU and the heightened expectations among SNP and independence activists of an early re-run of 2014.
Clever politics as this may be, it is also an approach which contains within it the seeds of major difficulties for the wider demand for independence.
How does the SNP government preserve unity on its pro-EU drive within unionist parties while contributing to building the pressure for independence?
Real politics strongly suggests when the shuttle diplomacy between Edinburgh and Brussels has been and gone, the expert commissions pronounced and the limited concessions won, the choice will then still be one of being a member of the British Union or the European one.
Only an independent Scotland can, in the end, opt for the EU with any realistic hope of success. It’s a decision which may be postponed but it is unlikely to be avoided.