Will Brexit lead to Scoxit?

The looming Brexit negotiations has breathed new life into the SNP's bid for Scottish independence. Matthew Partridge reports.


Nicola Sturgeon: taking back control
(Image credit: 2017 Getty Images)

This week the Lords finally accepted a clean version of the Brexit bill, allowing it to receive royal assent, and giving Prime Minister Theresa May the ability to trigger Article 50. When this happens, "the legal process of divorce from the European Union will have begun... Brexit will suddenly feel real", says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. However, ignore any temporary "sense of certainty" this creates. "There are so many different variables involved that nobody sensible can be sure" what will happen. Even if both sides are prepared to compromise, "world events could radically change the context of the Brexit negotiations".

One such event could be Scottish independence. On Monday, even as the Brexit bill was being passed, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made fresh demands for another referendum vote. As a result, "a historic day for our country" was "overshadowed by a dangerous new threat to our sacred Union", says the Daily Mail. Sturgeon's argument that May's apparent backing for a hard Brexit justifies a second vote is "one of the most risible of pretexts". In reality, "die-hard nationalists will find any excuse to resurrect their singular obsession: the breakup of the Union which has served our nations so well for the past 300 years". Quite, says The Sun. A re-run of the 2014 vote is "irresponsible, hypocritical... and bonkers".

However, the Scottish edition of The Sun is more ambivalent. Yes, the SNP must "explain how they plan to cope once Westminster cuts up the credit cards". But promises from Westminster of "an equal partnership" look "pretty hollow in the light of Brexit". Overall, "Scotland's open to being persuaded". Despite a lack of public enthusiasm for a second referendum, May's "apparent readiness to tolerate leaving without a deal", and "her rejection of any attempt to fight for access to the single market", have "played straight to the independence cause", agrees The Guardian. Her uncompromising stance may well lead to "Scotland's departure from the UK".

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Brexit is certainly a big enough change "to justify another vote", argues Bloomberg View. But Sturgeon is being overly hasty in suggesting holding it as early as late 2018.It would be "wise for Scotland to vote after the UK has actually left the EU", especially as Scotland "needs to know what terms the EU will offer". After all, "there'd be no automatic right of membership" and one thing's for sure "Spain's feelings on independence for Catalonia won't incline its government to welcome a smooth Scottish accession".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri