By Kirsty Hughes, Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations

THE Brexit crisis staggers on. Possible scenarios still multiply. Boris Johnson might be prime minister for just a few more weeks or for several more years. The UK might leave the EU with or without a deal. Or a Labour government – most likely needing SNP and Liberal Democrat support – might oversee another EU referendum and the UK might (or not) vote Remain.

Where does this leave Scotland’s independence debate? In a Remain scenario, the implications of independence in the EU would be more straightforward – border issues dissolve away – but the urgency of debate might lessen. But in the chaos of a “no deal” Brexit or the lesser shock of the UK leaving with an exit deal, independence debates will surely sharpen further.

If Brexit goes ahead, then in any future independence vote, there would doubtless still be debates on how Scotland could rejoin the EU. But it would be a very different debate to 2014.

It will be the UK that has chosen to be a third country outside the EU not those arguing for Scottish independence. And rather than Brussels exaggerating the challenges for an independent Scotland to join the EU, the EU would likely be more straightforward on how accession could happen while being studiously neutral on independence itself.

But Brexit would also put debates over the future Scottish/UK border centre stage. And, since there will be little clarity on the future UK-EU border for some time, these debates will be even trickier.

Imagine the scenario where Mr Johnson, remarkably enough, agrees a Northern Ireland-only backstop – doubtless relabelled to ease him on his way – and gets it through Parliament. Any deal that kept the Irish border open, would mean a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea. But how hard and problematic a border would depend on the final future trade deal the UK struck with the EU some years down the road.

Nor will there be much chance of Scotland inside the UK getting a similar deal to that Northern Ireland may have. The UK government (of any hue) would likely not ask for it, nor would the EU accept it. But, just as a Northern Irish backstop puts the border in the Irish Sea, so such a deal for Scotland would put the Scotland/England border at Berwick – border issues would be live even without independence.

If the UK, despite Westminster’s legislation, crashed out without a deal on October 31, there would eventually be some EU-UK talks but no immediate clarity – beyond the border being chaotic and, in principle, covered by WTO rules.

Overall, under any Brexit scenario, the nature of the final EU-UK border would be unclear – meaning an independent Scotland’s future border with the UK would be unclear too.

Of course, if Boris Johnson stays in power for the next five years and agrees a basic free trade deal with the EU, clarity will come and the EU-UK (or more likely EU-Britain) border will be a hard one indeed. Unlike under Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement or even under a putative Jeremy Corbyn deal, the UK would not even be in the EU’s customs union. A hard Scotland-Britain border would beckon.

Brexit increases the pressure for a second independence vote while creating new debates around borders and the politics and economics of Scotland being an EU member state while the UK is not. This has always been the Brexit-independence conundrum and it’s not going away any time soon.