Tim Stanley

Another Scottish independence referendum? The Union can win it

Another Scottish independence referendum? The Union can win it
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Fraser Nelson is joined by Alex Massie and James Forsyth to discuss IndyRef2:

When will the politics ever end? Now Nicola Sturgeon says she wants a second Scottish independence referendum, and so we plunge ourselves – wearily but no less determined – into yet another fight to save our country. The nationalists operate on the principle of being a persistent irritant. Demand independence so often and so annoyingly that eventually the country just says: 'Have it, if it will shut you up.'

But no. We proud Unionists cannot submit to the SNP’s logic that independence is 'only a matter of time'. We have to fight this. And we can win.

First, let me shoot down the Brexit myth. The argument goes that because Scotland voted Remain and Theresa May 'insists' upon a hard Brexit, Scotland will inevitably want to leave the UK to stay in the single market. This is wrong on so many levels. The fact that May is pursuing a hard Brexit is not a matter of Tory policy but the logical extension of Brexit itself, for to leave the EU in any meaningful sense is to leave the single market. If Scotland left the UK to avoid this situation, it would be cutting off its nose to spite its face, for there’s no guarantee that it would be able to join the EU in its own right. And can we please remember that not all Scots are Europhiles? Some 38 per cent of them voted for Brexit, including 400,000 SNP supporters.

I resent the suggestion that Brexit is a purely English matter. To say that we have to choose between Brexit and maintaining the Union is not axiomatic – it’s SNP logic, and cynical logic at that. Nicola Sturgeon has decided this is true because it’s an excuse to call a referendum. And any old excuse would do – the renewal of Trident, austerity, Scotland losing the rugby. Nigel Farage could sneeze and the SNP would call a referendum over it.

So let’s say they get eventually their #indyref2, which the Scottish public probably doesn’t even want, and we have to repeat 2014 all over again. What will happen? The Union side has reasons to be downcast, it’s true. Scottish Labour, which dominated the campaign last time, has all but died; the victim of its own arrogance. Media headlines might terrify enough Scots into thinking that Brexit makes leaving the UK not so terrible an option, that it's a leap into the dark from the dark. And a lot of Englishmen won’t be bothered to campaign.

But actually the SNP position isn’t as certain as you might think. Sturgeon has to call for a referendum before the SNP/Green alliance loses its theoretical majority in Holyrood, which could happen at the next Scottish elections. Why? Because the SNP is rubbish at governing. Utter pants at it. Education has suffered, services have been needlessly centralised, the accounts are a mess. For decades oil has been the central argument for nationalist economics, and the price has collapsed. No wonder that votes are growing for Scotland’s Tories, who could be on the brink of a political renaissance. This time around, the pro-Union campaign will have a genuine, charismatic star in Tory leader Ruth Davidson. The Lib Dems' Willie Rennie isn't half bad either.

Of course, material questions and the opinion of experts no longer win referendums. I, observing all this from the gardens of Kent, am an English Unionist for romantic reasons. The Union – like the monarchy, the army, PG tips and the Shakespearean sonnet – is key to my identity. I am lucky to have lived in this wonderful, multi-ethnic, multi-national union bonded by memories of war and sacrifice. I don’t see why I should give up on that either because I’m exhausted by elections or because Ms Sturgeon has decided that the time for such things has passed.

More importantly, I won’t give up on the Unionist Scots who believe what I believe too. So, fine. Let’s have another referendum. And let’s bloody win it.