Scotland's Catch-22: How Brexit harms the case for independence AND the Union

PUBLISHED: 16:14 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 03 July 2019

A pro-EU rally at Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA.

A pro-EU rally at Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

Campaigner Harry McNeill says Brexit has little to offer neither the unionists nor nationalists in Scotland.

By nature, referendums are a divisive business.

Rightly or wrongly, the independence debate has dominated Scottish political discourse since 2014 and to this day, many in Scotland are identified as either 'Yes' or 'No' voters - in the same way across the UK we have Leavers and Remainers.

Yet, though it may not be obvious, Brexit is just as much a threat to Scottish independence as it is to the British union. That is why this summer, it is more important than ever that individuals across the political spectrum in Scotland unite behind the People's Vote movement.

For the Conservative and Unionist Party, the threat is obvious.

Despite having more clout in parliament than the DUP, the Scottish Conservatives have been remarkably quiet on Brexit. While there is no doubt that diverging from the party policy of 'delivering' Brexit would be challenging internally, the Scottish Conservatives need to look at the bigger picture.

With any form of 'sensible' Brexit deal blown out the water, we are hurting towards the extremity of no-deal and the economic crisis it would bring. What do people do when they feel their living standards decline? They lash out at the status quo. When that status quo is likely to be prime minister Boris Johnson, then the threat to established order of the United Kingdom has never been so severe.

Labour unionists also find themselves in a tricky position to put it mildly. The meteoric rise of right wing English nationalism, coupled with consistently poor performances in the polls, make the Labour vision of a socially progressive Britain seem a rather distant dream.

Scottish Labour deserve praise for coming out in full support of a confirmatory vote yet are hamstrung by Jeremy Corbyn's inability to articulate any kind of clarity in Labour's Brexit stance. For the sake of reversing the party's dire fortunes north of the border, he must do so soon.

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Therefore, there is little doubt that widespread discontent with Brexit presents nationalists with an immediate advantage.

While campaigning I have come across numerous SNP supports who tell me the best way to fight Brexit is to join the nationalist movement. Who can blame them?

But what we in the People's Vote movement need to articulate to SNP supporters, is that Brexit is just as much a threat to an independent Scotland.

It is often-cited by unionists that 60% of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK. A Yes voter in 2014 could have expected an independent Scotland to have frictionless trade with the rUK, given, as expected, both would be members of the EU.

Now, the dynamics look very different. Tempting though it may be to watch the UK make its bed and lie in it, a hard Brexit will cause endless problems for an independent Scotland intent on re-joining the EU.

Considering it is clearly impossible in Ireland, how would we resolve the issue of a hard border between Scotland and England? How would business cope with tariffs on the bulk of their exports? Resolving this will be a long, damaging and drawn out process that absolutely no fledging state desires.

That is why Brexit has little to offer unionists and nationalists alike. The threat to the union is now existential and unionists must ask themselves what is more important, an undeliverable Brexit project or a 312-year-old United Kingdom.

Yet nationalists cannot be content to sit back and enjoy the show, as the implications for an independent Scotland are just as severe. Frustrating though it may be, the campaign to remain in Europe must trump all else in Scottish politics for the time being.

- Harry McNeill is the director of Our Future, Our Choice - Scotland

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