When the resignation of the Prime Minister only makes the third slot on the evening news, you know the world has changed. So it was in Scotland the day after the EU referendum. I have no complaint, therefore, that many of my fellow UK travellers elsewhere in the British Isles failed to register the particulars of another speech made that day 450 miles away.
Within four hours of the final results, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, proclaimed that she had already instructed Scottish government officials to draft the necessary legislation for a second independence referendum.
In her mind, England and Wales voting one way while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted another was enough for her to call time on a 300-year-old Union that was endorsed by Scots in a popular vote just 22 months before. Her hyperactivity in the days that followed – designed to capitalise on the vacuum left by leadership elections in both main UK parties – was intended to underline the supposed inevitability of such a velvet divorce. But now the dust has settled and hard questions are being asked of all sides.
It’s true, certainly, that Scotland voted by a clear margin for the UK to remain. True, too, that as the shock and surprise (and it was a surprise – north of the border, the EU referendum felt like someone else’s war) kicked in, there was a real political shudder as many unionists examined the smouldering political landscape.
But Ms Sturgeon’s attempts to cast the 1.6 million Scots who voted Remain as de facto independence voters have come unstuck. I, for one, did not vote to stay in one wider union so that she could try to rip Scotland out of another, worth far more to us in trade. And – even in Scotland – more people voted to leave the EU than voted Ms Sturgeon for First Minister just six weeks before.
No surprises, then, that psephologist Professor John Curtice recorded in his post-referendum analysis last week: It looks as though the apparent swing in favour of independence in the immediate wake of the Brexit vote was no more than a short-term reaction, and that the balance of opinion has returned to where it was beforehand.
It’s a conclusion backed by senior nationalists such as Alex Neil, a former SNP minister, who noted: The initial surge of support for independence in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum is already reverting to pre?EU referendum levels.
In other words, we are back to where we were, but with this important caveat: while support for independence is broadly where it has been for the past two years, support for another referendum on independence is continuing its downward trajectory and is at just 37 per cent. Even supporters of independence have had enough of angry, divisive referendums.
And what of the future? Well, we’ve still got an arch-separatist as a First Minister who is keen to peddle the idea of inevitability over independence. She declared in last week’s programme for government (Holyrood’s more subdued version of the Queen’s Speech) that another referendum bill would be prepared, but not scheduled. Sort of shoved onto a shelf, but a low shelf, able to be reached for at a moment’s notice.
But now individual sectors, businesses and organisations are raising their voices, explaining what they want to see from Brexit, either to mitigate the impact or to grasp the opportunities that follow.
Leaders of Scotland’s financial sector – like their colleagues in London – are calling for the passporting of financial services.
Thirteen of Scotland’s business organisations wrote to the Scottish government asking for the immediate reversal of a tax hike which sees firms north of the Border paying twice the rates of their southern counterparts.
Whisky industry chiefs have already met Liam Fox to talk about supporting exports to new markets.
The bulk of the UK’s fishing fleet is based in Scotland and fishing organisations have met with multiple ministers, confident that the repatriation of powers will help the long-term viability of their industry. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says Brexit means they could lead the way in developing fit-for-purpose management that will enable fishing to sustainably develop.
This is not to say that everything is rosy or that, as an avowed Remainer, I’ve suddenly changed tune. I still believe there will be tough times ahead and some sectors will suffer economic shocks from the decision to leave. But I am a democrat. I recognise that more than 17 million people voted for this, including one million in Scotland.
Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, I do not pretend that one referendum vote was a proxy for the other, nor that the EU referendum result negates the independence referendum of September 2014. One asked if Scotland wanted to stay in the UK, the other if we wanted the UK to stay in the EU. It wasn’t a case of either/or.
It sometimes appears that the SNP administration in Edinburgh wants the Brexit negotiations to fail, so as to bolster the nationalists’ case for independence. I don’t. I want the UK to continue to be the outward-looking country it is; the force for good in the world that shoulders its burdens and meets its responsibilities to its allies and friends, as I have always known it to be.
The negotiations to be embarked upon have never been attempted before. Trying to pretend that there are only two options, hard or soft Brexit, is a fallacy. It is also wrong to suggest that our selection is limited to other countries’ deals – we will not be confined by the Norwegian model or the Swiss example.
This is about taking our time to hammer out a bundle of bespoke agreements which are tailored to our national interest – and which, crucially, should also suit our neighbours across Europe, too.
My hope is that taking this route will ensure that the deals we strike will meet the unique requirements of the United Kingdom – including Scotland. We all need to make Brexit work.
Ruth Davidson MSP is leader of the Scottish Conservatives
News Source TelegraphNews