Nicola Sturgeon may sound assured as she stands before a phalanx of unquestioning media hacks on the steps of the First Minister’s residence at Bute House in Edinburgh.
Judging from her actions, however, as opposed to her words, she is far more aware of the political predicament in which she now finds herself on the home front north of the border than she is of the wider techtonic plates of politics.
Four days ago, For Argyll reported on a 180 degree stagger of the FM on the issue of an independent Scotland’s currency – within a twelve day period.
On 10th June, the BBC reported Ms Sturgeon, as saying that she would want an independent Scotland to continue to use the pound, regardless of the result of the EU Referendum, asserting that: ‘The pound is Scotland’s currency as much as it is England’s currency’.
Twelve days later, on 22nd June, she was opting instead for the euro, arguing risibly that that the pound might take a drop in the aftermath of a Brexit, making the euro a more attractive option; and apparently ignorant of the fact that the Brexit which has now come about would force the euro into a far deeper and more prolonged attack in its value than will be the case with the pound.
And today – 26th June – four days later than that last stagger, her predecessor, Alex Salmond, is reported in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, as telling them that he is sure that the First Minister is poised to opt for a new currency for Scotland – whatever it may be called, which would be pegged to the British pound. [Pegging currency to the pound is a unilateral action and does not confer access to the Bank of England as the vital lender of last resort.]
This directionless thrashing about for what appears to be the solution of the moment – moment after moment – to the tricky issue of currency for indy, really does not instil confidence that in reality this is an FM who knows what she is doing. And if she doesn’t have a clue, her largely mediocre cabinet certainly does not.
This information from Mr Salmond comes as it is revealed that EC communications have now made it clear that they will not engage with Ms Sturgeon on the proposition of a seamless continuation of Scottish membership of the EU should Scotland have opted for independence during the period of the UK’s exit negotiations.
They have been clear that constitutionally they can deal only with member states, not with parts of member states; and that an independent Scotland would have to make a new application for membership.
This is not what Ms Sturgeon wanted to hear, since current members states like, of course, Spain, have their own separatist elements which would immediately push hard for independence should Scotland be fast tracked to membership. Such member states would therefore veto any such new application from an independent Scotland.
A game of consequences
For the FM, for the SNP and for the indy movement, this determination of the EC presents them with a tough predicament.
- They can decide to go for indyref 2 regardless, and just hope that if that succeeds, they will somehow get an EU application through – even though adopting the euro would be a certain condition of membership. There would be no assured success of such an application, with the real risk being Scotland finding itself outside both of its current union memberships and a member of none. With the SNP government consistently concerned to see an independent Scotland not truly independent but a member of some union – and, in true nationalist sectarian fashion, preferably one that does not contain England, this cannot be a comfortable scenario.
- Alternatively, still a member of the United Kingdom and with the unquestioned right simply and quietly to remain so, the SNP Government might well, in Scotland’s interests, choose to do just that. They might see it as the wiser choice to throw Scotland’s lot in with a Britain galvanised to move strongly to succeed outside the EU. The trouble with this option is the substantial loss of face for the FM and her government in what has been a pretty maladroit and blinkered series of political manoeuvres.
For the British union, the consequences of the EC ruling now shifts immediate political concerns to the plights of Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
Scotland now has no serious urgent decisions to make. Whatever the face saving choreography and rhetoric that will emerge, Scotland can now take its time to see how things pan out in the UK-EU negotiations, in which it will be formally involved.
Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, however, are facing immediate threats to their constitutions, as members of the British union who now lack the protection of the EU, its freedom of movement and its common market.
Northern Ireland, out of the EU along with all of the UK, will have the UK’s only land border with the EU, in the shape of the Republic of Ireland. NI is facing intense nationalist political pressure for a referendum on reunification as the only viable alternative to a hard land border. This is a very long land border currently with unrestricted access in either direction, creating an inevitability of its becoming an EU migrant highway.
Gibraltar, with Gibraltarians absolutely requiring the security of the EU freedom of movement simply to get to work every day across the Spanish border, is now, as a British Overseas Territory, outside the EU, without that protection.
It faces renewed vigour in Spain’s attempts to take the territory; and it faces inevitable repeated border harrassment from Spain for its citizens who need to cross that border in a range of economic survival pressures – and who need the unrestricted border to ensure its supply chains.
As a small territory – it’s referendum electorate was 24,000 – quite far from UK shores and off our colonial radar, who will now support it in its efforts to remain British? This is a very particularly question today, when Britain has its own urgent needs to reshape its direction and its national strategies for external relationships.
Real polititique dictates that any empire looks first to its own needs.