Comment: Time to be honest about realities of Scexit

Toby Neal looks forward to 2024, referendums, and negotiations.

A view of the future?
A view of the future?

"This is a great day – a historic day when Scotland has chosen its own destiny!"

Nicola Sturgeon's words on the steps of Holyrood are almost drowned out by the cheers and chants of jubilant SNP supporters.

The date is June 24, 2024, and the result of the Scottish independence referendum is through.

To remain in the United Kingdom, 48 per cent. To leave the United Kingdom, 52 per cent.

And it is indeed a historic day, because it is the first referendum in history in which the Scottish National Party has accepted the result, which it describes as "clear and decisive".

The campaign has been long and hard, and I've actually got a challenge to readers to come up with a snappy name for it.

Scexit doesn't really work. And please don't suggest Jocks Away! as you will be on the naughty step for indulging in patronising national stereotypes. You probably won't get away with McFly either.

My suggestion is OffScot. Anyway, all alternative suggestions gratefully received.

Moving on, with the die cast, it's time to negotiate the departure. Who should lead the negotiating team for the United Kingdom?

It would need to be somebody unencumbered by guilt about that unpleasantness at Glencoe, or over what high-spirited English soldiers did in the aftermath of Culloden.

There is only one man for the job. The name is Barnier, Michel Barnier. He's entirely free of institutional English guilt. Better still, he's at a loose end at the moment awaiting a new role (he's even had time to write a book), so the UK government should put him on a retainer immediately.

And with luck the SNP negotiating team will be led by Ian Blackford, who seems to think Monsieur Barnier is some all-wise, all-knowing, supergod who can say or do no wrong.

Boris Johnson, if he is still in power, will give instructions to Monsieur Barnier to take his time to make sure he gets things right. That will buy a few years.

First part of the negotiations will involve agreeing the timetable of the negotiations. Six months down.

And then comes the divorce bill. How much does Scotland owe the rest of the UK for projects already committed which would have unfolded with an element of Scottish financial input? How many civil servants are there in Whitehall who were expecting Scottish cash to contribute to their pensions?

That will take ages to sort out.

Next on the agenda: the status of the Queen in an independent Scotland. A poll a few weeks ago showed the Scots are exactly split on the issue – 39 per cent want a republic, 39 per cent want to keep the royal family, and the rest don't know. And would the royal family still be able to keep Balmoral in an independent Scotland?

We haven't even started yet on trade, borders, whether Scotland would seek the protection of the UK umbrella on defence, etc, etc.

Michel's famous ticking clock will be ticking itself to death.

But let's say they get it done in super quick time, say four years. All done and dusted, all hunky dory. There's a ceremony on the border to mark the occasion as Scotland goes it alone.

That's just the beginning.

Nicola and the SNP promised Scottish voters that an independent Scotland would join the European Union, even though it isn't actually up to her.

For that policy to have any legitimacy would require another referendum in Scotland. Voters in Scotland have only ever voted on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU. They have not been given an opportunity to express a view on whether an independent Scotland should join the EU, which is a very different kettle of fish.

When the UK was in the EU it was one of the largest nations, with influence to match. An independent Scotland would be among the smallest nations in the bloc, with influence to match.

So it is a big new decision to be made in radically different circumstances.

If Scotland voted in this new referendum along the lines that it did in 2016, it would then seek to join the EU, which would require an entire new set of negotiations.

The EU would be seeking an experienced negotiator. By this time Michel will be getting on, but he's a safe pair of hands. Let's say it takes two or three years (optimistic, I know). Scotland and the EU would then come up with A Deal.

Now we know that the SNP thinks that when A Deal is reached with the EU, that justifies having a renewed referendum on the issue, because only then will the people actually know the terms and conditions they are going to be voting for.

We can be assured then that Nicola will be keen to put the deal that she and her team reaches to the Scottish people, especially as it is bound to require Scotland to meet the EU membership tests for financial stability. The EU will probably be looking for lots of Greek-style austerity measures.

And as the SNP will also sign up to the EU's freedom of movement requirements, that tends to point to the need for a hard, real, frontier with the rest of the UK, which doesn't accede to EU freedom of movement, quite apart from the vexed question of the creation of a de facto trading border.

A lot to think about then.

The above assumes that the Spanish, with their sensitivities about separatism, wouldn't veto Scottish membership anyway.

To summarise. Years and years of negotiations. Complex issues to resolve (not least, what currency Scotland would use). At least two referendums. A big divorce payment to the UK if we're lucky.

Nicola Sturgeon has enthused Scottish people with the vision of independence. Now it's time for the SNP to stop relying on a vague and glossy roadmap and to be honest about the realities of the journey.

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