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Expert comment: Scottish Independence Referendum II

0127 Prof Michael Lavalette Tuesday 14 March 2017

Professor of Social Work and Social Policy Dr Michael Lavalette discusses the implications of a second Scottish Independence Referendum.

Yesterday (Monday 13th March), Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to ask the Scottish Parliament to invoke a section 30 order (of the Scotland Act), which will allow a new Scottish Independence Referendum to take place.

Sturgeon is likely to take the request to the Scottish Parliament next week, after which time negotiations will begin with the UK government over the timing of the vote. The response from Westminster seems to suggest that the Prime Minister might 'block' or delay the process. Any such moves would deepen the constitutional crisis that may already be unfolding.

Scottish opinion polls currently put the vote on a knife-edge, so could we about to see the break-up of Britain?

The vote in 2014 was meant to end the constitutional question 'for a generation', so long as - the Scottish government argued - there was no material change in circumstances. Last year's EU vote changed the ground 'materially'. In Scotland, there was an overwhelming vote to stay in the EU, whilst England and Wales voted to leave. 

Throughout the aftermath of the UK vote, Sturgeon tried to work with the May government to secure a negotiating position for Scotland in the Brexit process. In particular, Sturgeon wanted to secure Scottish access to the single market. This was rebuffed by Westminster.

In 2014, the UK government made it clear that the only way Scotland could remain in the EU was to vote No and stay within the UK in Europe. Now Scotland is being told it will have to leave the EU despite the promises of 2014 and Scotland's vote in the Brexit referendum.

The UK government also emphasised that the UK was a 'nation of equals' and suggested a deeper devolution akin to 'Home Rule' would follow the Indy vote. But, May's actions have shown that Scotland remains a very junior partner within the UK and, in fact, she has suggested that Brexit will lead to a diminishing set of powers for the government in Edinburgh.

The next two years are likely to see two processes taking part together: Brexit and the run up to IndyRef2.

But, although intimately linked, it would be an error if this simply becomes a re-run of the EU question, and a mistake if Sturgeon and the SNP try to reduce the issue to EU membership.

The strength of the referendum campaign in 2014 was the way it spoke to working class communities about real alternatives to austerity - that an independent Scotland could be a fairer and more just society. The 'social question' - of equality, funded public services, civic nationalism - is likely to be crucial this time. The broad 'Yes campaign' (which is much greater than the SNP alone) needs to link the question of independence to social betterment, opposition to cuts and austerity and the aspiration that 'another Scotland is possible'.

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