Henry Hill

Boris has a trump card in denying Sturgeon an ‘illegal’ referendum

(Getty images)

Amidst all the dry economic arguments, one of the more emotive fronts on which the 2016 referendum was fought was whether Brexit could lead to the dissolution of the Union. Some Remainers made the argument that dragging Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland out ‘against their will’ would turbocharge support for independence. Unionists such as myself – who ended up on the Leave side – saw it differently: EU membership was actually making it easier for the SNP to sell separation as a low-risk proposition. Shared membership of the EU would, after all, allow Scotland as a newly-independent country to enjoy relatively normal social and economic relations with England.

While the SNP did its best to weaponise Brexit in the aftermath of the referendum, in the end it failed to yield the sort of surge that some, including Nicola Sturgeon, were evidently expecting. It took the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Government’s mishandling of it, to push support for independence to the levels we were supposed to attribute to Brexit.

But that doesn’t make it unimportant. Leaving the EU has alienated a section of liberal voters who backed ‘no’ in 2014, whose attachment to Britain is at least much more conditional than it was. This was, for a time, compensated in part by the defection of pro-Brexit voters from the SNP, although Alex Salmond’s contribution to the cause may yet be wooing these back with his Alba party.

While the SNP did its best to weaponise Brexit in the aftermath of the referendum, in the end it failed to yield the sort of surge that some, including Nicola Sturgeon, were evidently expecting

Yet it is also true that Brexit, and especially the harder form of Brexit secured by the Government, makes life more difficult for the separatists, precisely by taking away the easy sell of ‘the best of both worlds’.

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