There’s been much talk – rightly – of the need to reach out to former ‘No’ voters who might change their minds after the Brexit result. But in the event of a second independence referendum, the ‘Yes’ campaign cannot take for granted the votes of those who voted ‘Yes’ in 2014, but ‘Leave’ in 2016. But those who did so should vote ‘Yes’ in Indyref2, even if that’s predicated on Scotland’s independence being within the EU.
In the interests of transparency, I’ll put my cards on the table. I voted ‘Yes’ and ‘Remain’. But I can understand the reasons why some yessers may have voted to quit the EU.
I used to be a Eurosceptic. I’m old enough to remember the days of the European ‘wine lakes’ and ‘butter mountains’, when the Common Agricultural Policy led to the over-production of food that was either left to rot in warehouses, or else dumped on world markets, thus impoverishing farmers in developing countries; and I know that the Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster for Scotland’s fishing industry, particularly in the north east.
But, I voted ‘Remain’ because, on balance, the benefits of EU membership for Scotland outweigh the disbenefits. For example, funding via the EU’s Regional Selective Assistance programme has created or maintained over 6,000 jobs in Scotland that otherwise wouldn’t be there. And while the implementation of Common Fisheries Policy has been awful for Scotland’s fishermen, that’s in part because successive UK Governments have been content to use our fishing industry as a sacrificial pawn in European negotiations.
But this is neither the time nor the place to rehearse the pre-EU referendum debates. We are where we are. The question for a ‘Yes/Leave’ voter is what do we do now. What should you do if you voted ‘Leave’, but the choice in Indyref2 is a choice between the UK or European Unions?
If, like me, you are a card-carrying SNP member, the choice should be simple. Because remaining in the EU is undoubtedly our best chance of turning the 45% into a majority for ‘Yes’. And if we don’t win a post-Brexit Indyref2, that really will set back the cause of Scottish Independence for decades. Just look at Quebec.
Moreover, whatever one’s reasons for disliking the EU, we need to recognize that the EU that we knew before 23rd June simply no longer exists. The UK Brexit vote has sent shock waves through Europe, where Eurosceptic parties are gaining ground in many other member states. So one scenario would be that Brexit triggers a domino effect, Scotland gains independence by seeking to remain in the EU, and then the EU itself unravels. And if the EU does unravel, how would you feel if you’d voted ‘No’ in Indyref2 and helped keep Scotland fettered to the UK?
As it happens, I don’t think the EU will unravel, though I do think that it’s a possibility. A more likely scenario is that Europe’s leaders will undertake real reform to keep the show on the road while addressing the concerns of Eurosceptic voters across the continent.
And I do mean real reform, not the sort of fudge we’ve seen in that past, such as when it took two referendums in Denmark to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, in 1992, or when Ireland similarly needed two attempts to ratify the Nice Treaty in 2001-2002. In both cases, those countries were offered concessions in the form of various opt-outs from the treaties that had been negotiated. And they weren’t threatening to leave, merely refusing to ratify changes to previous arrangements. Brexit is a whole different ball game: it’s the UK voting to leave the EU, after already having been given some (albeit minor) concessions.
Europe’s leaders understand the need for reform. Commission Vice-President, Kristalina Georgieva, speaking on ‘Newsnight‘ on 27th June, said that the EU was facing ‘an existential threat’, and that changes were needed so that it could accommodate those countries that wanted closer integration, but also make it possible for those who want a looser form of union to have that. If Scotland decides on independence within the EU, we can then have the debate on whether we wish to be in the closer or looser form of integration; and I suspect that many Scots who voted ‘Remain’ would choose the latter.
It’s also important to recognise that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, an independent Scotland, a nation of 5 million, would carry more weight in a union of 28 sovereign states with a combined population of 500 million than it does in a United Kingdom of 60 million. Last week’s referendum demonstrated that beyond doubt: Scotland voted to remain; and even if Holyrood withholds its consent to leave the EU, we can be overruled by Westminster. In the EU, a major constitutional change requires unanimity, so a small country, be it Croatia, Estonia, or an independent Scotland, has a veto over such decisions.
If you believe in Scottish independence, but dislike the EU and voted ‘Leave’, you must vote ‘Yes’ in Indyref2, even if that means Scotland remaining in Europe.