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Brexit has made a second independence referendum more likely

24 June 2016

5:48 AM

24 June 2016

5:48 AM

Just look at the map on the BBC website, there are eerie comparisons with the 2015 general election – Scotland has been painted yellow: again. This time, though, there is a difference. This time the whole of Scotland is yellow. There are no patches of any other colour to break up the picture.

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And that is the crucial point. The whole of Scotland voted Remain: the whole of Scotland without exception, including those areas, like the Western Isles, which voted to leave the EEC last time round.

That sends a very powerful message.

Nicola Sturgeon knew that, if the UK was going to vote for Brexit, she needed the point of difference between Scotland and England to be as big as possible – and she has got it.


Already some powerful voices from within her own party have started pushing for a second Scottish independence referendum and they may become so insistent they become impossible to ignore. Humza Yousaf, perhaps Ms Sturgeon’s closest political ally at Holyrood, declared this morning that taking Scotland out of the EU would be ‘indefensible’.

The Scottish Greens launched a petition as the result became clear, calling on Scotland to look at ‘every option’ to remain in the EU. Indeed, even before the final results were in this morning, it really looked as if the second independence referendum had already started.

Alex Salmond has made it clear repeatedly that he believes Ms Sturgeon should call a second independence referendum. Ms Sturgeon, though, is not her predecessor. While Mr Salmond would already have appeared before the media to angrily declare indyref2, the current first minister is much more cautious.

While she wants another shot at independence, she never wanted to be pushed into another referendum by circumstance, she wanted to control the conditions and the timing to make sure she couldn’t lose. If she is forced to hold another one now, she will no longer be in control and that will worry her.

So she is likely to think hard and take advice before making a decision. The defining factor for her may be how pro-European unionists take the result. If there is a public move by some Scottish Labour figures to declare their support for Scottish independence now that Brexit is inevitable, then that will probably swing it towards a fresh indy poll.

There may well be another big rise in SNP membership too as Scots declare their support for staying in Europe the only way they can. Mr Yousaf has already started appealing to Scots to join the SNP to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.

So make no mistake, the sense of injustice that many in Scotland will feel at being, as they see it, taken out of the EU against their will, will have to find an outlet somewhere. Demand will grow for another indyref over the next few days but it could be that the SNP decide to take another route.

The legislation taking the UK out of the EU has to be endorsed by the Scottish Parliament and there is already talk about holding it up, even defeating it when it appears before Holyrood. That would spark a constitutional crisis but that is exactly what some in the SNP want. That might be the most effective way of showing, not just that Scotland is different from the rest of the UK, but that it has considerable clout too.

That course of action would inevitably strain the already fragile relationship between Scotland and England and that, of course, is what the SNP leadership wants. But look again at that map. That is what Ms Sturgeon will have in the back of her mind as she decides what to do over the next few days. And, if you look at it from where she sits, it paints a fairly compelling picture. She will have to act: it is just a question of when and how.

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