The Herald’s Scotland’s Future series is looking at the issues affecting the nation as part of the constitutional debate.


It started this week with an examination of one of the greatest changes in the independence debate – Brexit, and its implications for borders and trade if Scotland were to rejoin the EU while the rest of the UK remained outside it.

The week-long series examined the SNP policy on returning to Brussels without a second EU referendum. It also looked at what Brussels would expect of an independent Scotland as it applied to rejoin as a new accession state, rather than as a continuing part of the EU.

Now it's time for Scotland's political parties to weigh in. 

'Brexit cannot break our nation’s bonds of friendship with Europe'

Angus Robertson, SNP

Scotland is a European nation. From earliest times we have been inextricably linked with our friends and neighbours on the European mainland.

Brexit has not and cannot break those bonds of friendship. But it has shattered almost 50 years of economic and social partnership, left many of Scotland’s most important economic sectors far poorer and has immeasurably strengthened the case for independence in the process.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – indeed, the vote here was by far the most decisive of any of the four UK nations. In spite of that, Scotland alone of the four nations has had its democratic wishes ignored.

England and Wales both voted Leave and got Leave. Northern Ireland voted Remain and has been able to retain aspects of Single Market membership – a market around seven times bigger than the UK market alone.  

Meanwhile, Scotland voted Remain in the most clear-cut result of the 2016 referendum and has had its vote ignored and disrespected at every turn by a UK Conservative government gripped by a Brexit mania which is as delusional as it is misplaced.

Because, far from the lofty rhetoric of “benefits” and “opportunities” flowing from Brexit, the reality is that leaving the EU and single market has been a calamity for Scotland and for the rest of the UK.

It has seen European funding lost, with no guarantee that the UK Government will make up the difference, it has curtailed freedom of movement making it impossible for our younger people in particular to enjoy the right to live and work across the Continent – and it has hammered trade in some of our key export sectors, especially food and drink.

The Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said this week he was struggling to find any Brexit opportunities and was “none the wiser” after reading the UK Governments ‘Benefits of Brexit’ report.

Scotland’s total trade with the EU fell by 24 per cent in the year to September 2021 compared to the equivalent period in 2019, while our trade with non-EU countries fell by 16 per cent over the same period. Clearly, this damage to trade reflects not just the impact of the pandemic, but also the reckless approach the UK Government has taken at every stage of the Brexit fiasco.

This week also saw a House of Commons report find that Brexit has hit businesses with increased costs, paperwork and border delays.

Independence offers Scotland the only realistic route to regaining our EU membership. All of the main Westminster-based UK parties now accept Brexit, meaning there is no other realistic or viable path for Scotland. 

Opponents of independence try to muddy the waters by suggesting, absurdly, that Scotland would face barriers to membership of the kind not faced by other countries which have joined the bloc over many years.

The reality of course is that – after nearly half a century of being part of the EU, and thereby already meeting key membership requirements, an independent Scotland would almost certainly better placed than any other previous candidate nation.

Re-joining Europe as an independent country will give Scotland a place at the EU top table for the first time as a nation in our own right. And it will allow us to retake our place among the European family, righting the historic and democratic wrong that has seen us removed against our will.

Angus Robertson is Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

'The central plank of the economic case for independence since the 1970s has been written off at a stroke'

Donald Cameron, Conservatives

HeraldScotland:

HE more things change, the more they stay the same.

There’s no doubt that the political backdrop to the independence debate has shifted since 2014 because of Brexit but none of the major flaws in the Yes camp’s case have been addressed in the years since. Indeed, new ones have emerged.

The question of what currency an independent Scotland would use was the Nationalists’ Achilles heel then, and we still have no satisfactory answers from them.

A desire to keep the pound was the top reason for people voting No in 2014. That explains why Nicola Sturgeon insisted before last year’s Scottish Parliament elections that an independent Scotland would retain Sterling for “as long as necessary” before switching to a new Scottish currency.

The reality of this is that we’d be in the same position with Panama in relation to the US Dollar, namely using another nation’s currency while having no influence over the central bank that decides fiscal policies relating to it.

Why would we voluntarily put ourselves in such a weak position?

The cold, hard reality is that the economic case for independence is even weaker now than it was back in 2014.

Back then, those backing Yes cited oil as the golden goose. Wildly inflated predictions of the future price of oil were bandied around.

Not only were the projections ridiculously optimistic, but now the SNP’s new-found hostility to fossil fuel extraction means “Scotland’s oil” is no longer a factor in the equation.

When you step back and look at it, that’s astonishing: the central plank of the economic case for Scottish independence since the 1970s written off at a stroke.

How on earth do nationalists expect to fill that gaping financial hole in their already weak thesis?

It’s a conundrum that might explain Ian Blackford’s absurd claim last week – subsequently eviscerated by all – that UK taxpayers would pay for pensions in an independent Scotland.

The fact that this notion was deemed too fanciful for inclusion even in the SNP’s 2014 prospectus tells you everything you need to know about how ridiculous it was.

The pandemic has also hindered the case for separation, as Scots have seen the benefits of the union via the UK Government’s furlough scheme and, more especially, the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout.

Brexit is often cited by Nationalists as a justification for holding another independence referendum - but it has in fact highlighted the illogicality of their argument.

The argument runs that the potential of lost trade with EU nations is so apocalyptic for Scotland that the only solution is to cut ties with our closest neighbour …with whom we do three times as much trade. Eh?

And that’s before we contemplate the cuts to public spending needed in an independent Scotland to make our huge notional deficit compliant with re-joining the EU – the goal of the SNP.

So the Scottish Government can choose to squander £700,000 a year on civil servants working on a new independence prospectus if they like, but the finest minds in the country still cannot make the case for separation stack up.

Donald Cameron MSP is Scottish Conservative Shadow Secretary for the Constitution

'Scots are being failed by two governments obsessed by division'

Sarah Boyack, Labour

HeraldScotland:

It is difficult to see how anyone can argue with a straight face that Brexit has been good for Scotland – or, for that matter, that is has been good for any part in the UK.  

The Tories have pursued a damaging hard Brexit at any cost, driven by ideology and incompetence in equal measure. As a result, it has hit businesses, hindered trade, robbed young people of opportunities, and seen crucial structural funding stripped away from communities.  

But far from strengthening the case for independence, as the SNP claim, this is a stark warning against it.  

We cannot look at the havoc caused by Brexit, and conclude we should attempt to unpick a far deeper, more complex and more longstanding political and economic union.  

We have now seen the damage that hard borders inflict on business, trade, and communities – and we shouldn’t be trying to build these barriers elsewhere, least of all with our closest neighbours and biggest trading partners.  

The answer to this chaos isn’t more chaos; the answer to barriers isn’t more barriers; and the answer to division isn’t more division.  

Brexit is not just a cautionary tale, but it has fundamentally changed what an independent Scotland would mean for the worse.  

The SNP have rightly criticised the deal struck by Boris Johnson and the Tories – but they want those terms to apply between Scotland and the rest of the UK.  

This is despite the fact over three times more of our Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK than the EU– not to mention how many of us travel back and forth across the Scottish border near daily, for work, education, and to see friends and family.  

The SNP’s plans won’t get rid of the hard borders created by Brexit – it will simply move them to Gretna.  

Of course we can do better than the shambolic hard Brexit the Tories are delivering, but the solution isn’t more of the same.   

Right now Scotland is being failed by two governments obsessed by division – both of which are, in their own way, attempting to create borders and build barriers. 

We need a Labour Government in Westminster building a strong new relationship with our European neighbours, and delivering a renewed United Kingdom by devolving power to nations and regions across the country.  

And here in Scotland, Scottish Labour will continue to build the alternative, bring people together, and find real solutions to the challenges we face. 

Sarah Boyack MSP is Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture.

'We were dragged along on the real leap into the dark by the Brexit vote'

Ross Greer, Scottish Greens

HeraldScotland:

IN a rare moment of clarity or perhaps by accident, the DUP MP Ian Paisley may have stumbled on something when he lambasted the UK Government for ignoring Northern Ireland in the Commons this week. The Conservative and Unionist Party, he asserted, “is actually a nationalist party. An English nationalist party.”

This was no revelation to people in Scotland, who see senior Westminster Tories label their own party’s Scottish leader ‘inconsequential’. For the comment to have come from an arch-unionist like Paisley though, someone who puts maintaining the United Kingdom ahead of everything else,reveals just how much the Brexit project has fundamentally undermined the myths which kept this so-called ‘union of equals’ together.

In 2014, independence was portrayed by its opponents as a dangerous leap into the dark compared to the familiarity of the centuries-old British state. We were promised that sticking with the UK was the only way to keep Scotland in the EU.

Instead, we were dragged along on the real leap into the dark two years later in the Brexit referendum. Scotland’s remain vote was overwhelmed by England’s vote to leave, fuelled by a whirlwind of messy hubris and empire revivalism. The Northern Irish peace process was ignored by the UK Government, whereas Europe rallied around the Republic of Ireland. And Westminster has cynically used the transfer of EU powers to the UK as a chance to directly attack the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

In fact, the Internal Market Act has given Boris Johnson’s corrupt government a veto over anything Holyrood decides. Our NHS, environmental protections and more are now vulnerable to whatever disastrous trade deals the Tories sign.

Many of those who voted no in 2014 did so because they didn’t want that leap into the dark. Sadly, that’s exactly what the No vote delivered. That’s why the Scottish Government will give voters a choice between Scotland’s back seat in the Tory Brexit bin fire or putting our own future in our own hands as an independent, European nation. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘your country needs you’ call for everyone to do their bit to make Brexit work will stick in the craw for the majority of Scots who wanted no part of Brexit in the first place. In contrast, Independence will give us the opportunity to establish our own relationship with our European neighbours, one based on cooperation and solidarity rather than a race to the bottom.

Ross Greer MSP is Finance Spokesperson for the Scottish Greens

'I would not meet one act of economic vandalism with another'

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrats

HeraldScotland:

For remainers of all stripes who stood shoulder to shoulder with Liberal Democrats across Britain and fought against Brexit tooth and nail, our departure from the EU still feels like an open wound. 

But we should beware those in the nationalist camp who would suggest that Scottish independence represents some sort of life boat to EU membership. It doesn’t. If anything it would leave us adrift from both unions, subject to capital flight and economic hardship.

Over the past six years we have seen the warnings of the Remain campaign vindicated. Brexit has damaged trade, thrown up barriers to scientific research and made previously simple jobs more complex. 

Sometimes people ask me, why then, when offered a route back into Europe through independence, we would not seize it with both hands? 

If Brexit showed the harm that could be caused by breaking up a 40-year union responsible for £16bn in trade, then imagine the economic and social damage that would be done by breaking up a 300-year-old union responsible for three times as much. 

Brexit broke my heart but I would not meet one act of self induced economic vandalism with another, much larger destructive act.

In truth, the SNP's support for the EU has always been about opportunism. They spent more money trying to win the Shetland by-election than they did on the whole EU referendum campaign. 

Nor does an independent Scotland have an assured seat at the EU’s table. Membership is not automatic and nor is it something that happens overnight. The processes and timeline between application and accession are arduous, filled with technical requirements and political negotiations. Senior figures in the SNP now admit it could take at least seven years post-independence and another referendum before they'd even try to re-join the EU. That's a long time for Scotland to be cut off from both sets of neighbours. 

The Copenhagen Criteria ask for a national deficit of three per cent – any sober and impartial assessment of Scotland’s financial position reveals that our deficit is many times that. Meeting those criteria would require billions in cuts to public services and eye-watering tax hikes, it would be austerity on stilts. 

Then there’s the issue of currency. The stated policy of the SNP is to retain the UK pound on an informal basis.  This itself would create an insurmountable barrier to EU membership. Brussels would not tolerate an accession state joining the Union while it was using the currency of a non-member state. Furthermore, without a central bank or lender of last resort, Scotland would be unable to withstand economic shock and would present too risky a prospect to the EU.

Then there’s the issue of borders – which, again, has been unclear since 2014, well before Brexit was a reality, 35 chapters of EU law that need to be negotiated and so much more. 

I believe that the UK’s future is at the heart of Europe, and I will spend the rest of my working life trying to demonstrate why,  but it won’t be independence that gets us there. 

Alex Cole-Hamilton is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats