The next indyref will be absolutely fascinating and totally unlike the contest last time. Last time the unionists managed to ensure that the debate remained a choice between a ‘safe’ ‘continuity’ UK which they successfully were able to contrast against the ‘uncertainties’ of a future independent Scotland. What was scrupulously avoided was any examination of the risks associated with remaining in the UK. The risks, as we now know, are manifest and an impending reality. Out of the EU, endless Tory rule, billions taken out of our economy, the probable need for visas to travel, a collapsing pound and the flight of business. The staying in the union was then not the risk free option that was so craftily presented.
This is a trick that won’t be afforded to the union side next time round. Brexit has completely turned that on its head. There will be no seamless continuity choice and both sides in the next referendum debate will have to present/defend an opportunity/risk option. Scotland will have to choose on the basis of whether we believe that we will be better off in the new Brexitised UK or an independent Scotland with the risks/opportunities of determining our own future.
Already the Brexit option is becoming more apparent. We now know we will be out of the single market and customs union and that we will end freedom of movement. There are now hints that if/when we don’t get the deal that we want with the rest of the EU we may become some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven. This is going to be difficult to sell in Scotland particularly when it will have to fall upon the Scottish Conservatives to put this case. There is no doubt that the Scottish Conservatives will lead the unionist side in the next referendum. After being enthusiastic Europeans the Scots Tories will now have to sell the virtues of this new isolated Britain. The Scots Tories running the union campaign will also inevitably mean they will bring their own particular political values to the campaign, particularly when there is absolutely no prospect of a Labour Government in the UK. It will increasingly be a Tory union verses a future social democratic Scotland with a Scottish Labour party on the wrong side of this political divide, rendering themselves almost irrelevant.
There is already alarm at how the next indyref will be fought from unionists conscious of the coming contest. The attempt to suggest that we will be cut off from the UK ‘single market’ and we will be ‘doubly’ worse off in leaving the UK is their favourite early desperate salvos in a attempt to fruitlessly rerun the economic arguments of the last indyref. They know, though, that ‘economic uncertainty’ will work both ways this time round as we see the ‘real’ evidence of an economy tanking with the prospects of its looming economic isolation.
There is also the key question of what type of country we will want to be? An independent Scotland will now be very different beast from a Brexitised UK. The Faragists and rightist Tories having won the terms of our departure from the EU are now carefully assembling the social agenda of this new UK. It will be one of antipathy to ‘foreigners’, weird nostalgia with a healthy dose of economic chauvinism. Shunned by the EU these Brexiteers are likely to seek solace in a Trumpian embrace. A Brexitised UK pulling away politically, economically and culturally can only seek some sort of new accommodation with this strange new president.
The choice this time will then be huge with massively contrasting options available. The Scottish people will be invited to scrutinise precisely the details of remaining in the UK just as they will consider what would be involved in securing full self Government. We will also have to properly consider what sort of Scotland we want to be. It is going to be so different from last time, as will the outcome.