It’s likely 2021 will be a defining year for the independence movement in Scotland. For the past 12 months the current has flowed strongly in its direction, with polls consistently suggesting a majority in favour.

Nicola Sturgeon’s relatively strong performance in dealing with Covid, enduring unease about Brexit and antipathy towards the Prime Minister have all been factors. It will be harder to maintain momentum this year.

Vaccination will remove the Covid churn while the Prime Minister will use the pandemic to camouflage the negative effects of his Brexit deal. The SNP’s 13 years in office is quite remarkable, but it has benefited from the absence of credible opposition. Unionist parties regularly criticise the SNP for its preoccupation with securing a second referendum. Yet, on recent evidence, they are more guilty of obsessing over independence.

A fair bit of digging is needed to exhume a single distinctive Scottish Labour or Conservative policy. Nevertheless, the “time for a change” factor could come into play in 2021. Additionally, the Prime Minister may be on a post-Covid and Brexit roll and simply choose to sit on his hands, waiting for the independence movement to blow itself out and become becalmed in the political doldrums.

In that event, the SNP will certainly need the much talked about Plan B. The problem is, there are few blueprints to follow. Indeed, the 1993 “Velvet Divorce” of the Czech Republic and Slovakia may be the only post-war example of a peaceful dissolution of a sovereign state. The background, though similar in some respects, was far from identical to the current Scottish situation.

Slovakia, with a population of five million certainly felt it played second fiddle to its bigger neighbour. Slovakia was virtually invisible in the Czech press. En passant, ever tried to find Scottish football scores or reports in the English editions? On the other hand, Czechs resented the disproportionate influence of Slovaks in national politics. Their resentment not dissimilar to Jeremy Paxman’s memorable rant, “Down here we live under a sort of Scottish Raj”.

The Slovak economy suffered from the collapse of communism in 1989, particularly loss of arms manufacture for the Soviet bloc.

Their Czech neighbours believed themselves to be more industrious and therefore subsidising the struggling Slovak economy. Perhaps similar to how the Barnett Formula is viewed in some English regions. However, the route to the Velvet Divorce was totally different to the current Scottish situation and nationalist strategy. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia did not involve a plebiscite.

Indeed, had there been, it’s likely the majority would have been against. Remarkably, the component parts went their own ways following agreement between their respective leaders, Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Meciar. The Czechs were initially shocked but philosophical, “If that’s what you want.”

The lack of serious enmity between the peoples meant separation was largely amicable, especially compared to the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia. The path was further smoothed when both joined the EU in 2004.

Opponents of Scottish independence regularly build their arguments on the economy and, in particular, the currency. Yet, the Czechs and Slovaks resolved those issues with little angst. Both used their own version of the Czech Koruna until 2009 when Slovakia established its own central bank and adopted the euro. The Czech Republic continues to use the Koruna. In 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Slovakia’s “remarkable democratic and economic progress”, while the OECD reported, “The economy is flourishing; strong growth is set to continue”.

Although Scotland and the rest of the UK appear to be on divergent paths, there’s a snowball’s chance of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson agreeing on a Czech-style Velvet Divorce. In 2021 the independence movement will have to win over the undecided, especially on the economy and currency. Perhaps the Slovakian experience shows it’s not as hard as unionists make out.

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