The fatal flaws of Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit strategy

The fatal flaws of Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit strategy

It has become crystal clear that the SNP have overplayed their hand on Brexit. The SNP’s tone was set on the morning of 24th June last year when Nicola Sturgeon eagerly seized on Scotland’s vote to Remain in the context of a UK vote to Leave as way of crowbarring her demand for independence back into Scottish politics. As the Brexit process has moved forward, we have seen little more than an escalation of adverbs from the First Minister, with a second independence referendum moving from ‘on the table’ to ‘very likely’ to ‘highly likely’.

As the polls consistently show, the Scottish people are the biggest barrier to a second referendum: they simply do not want one, and support for independence in the wake of Brexit is crumbling. Nicola Sturgeon is desperately seeking to buy time as a result.

Then why have the SNP played this all wrong? Because Scots are seeing through their paper-thin arguments. Let me consider them.

The SNP’s immediate go-to argument has been that “Scotland voted to remain”. However, they conveniently side-step the fact that the EU referendum was a UK-wide vote – something they acknowledged in their own white paper for independence, which states on p. 210 that “if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland.”

With this clearly stated within their white paper, Scots still voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK. Subsequently the United Kingdom voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU. Scotland is not a member of the EU, the membership rests with the UK. Given the SNP believe in the merits of referendums so much, they should actually start respecting their results.

True to her nationalist politics, Sturgeon hailed the votes of 1.6 million Scots who voted Remain as representing “Scotland’s voice”. Meanwhile, the votes of 1 million Scots who voted Leave were airbrushed out of the picture altogether. Ms Sturgeon did not stop to consider that among the Leave voters who were now being deleted from Scotland’s national story were thousands of her own supporters.

With nearly 40% of Scots voting to Leave, it is incredible that not a single SNP MP voted in favour of triggering Article 50, leaving David Mundell as the only MP to respect the result and highlighting how unrepresentative of Scotland’s people its MPs are.

In December 2016, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled Scotland’s Place in Europe – the SNP’s great ‘compromise’. In this 50+ page document, the SNP essentially say: ‘give in to our irrational demands, and we will take the threat of a second referendum off the table. For a while.’

They can call it a ‘compromise’ if they want; I call it constitutional blackmail.

The SNP proposed an unworkable solution in which Scotland retains free movement and single market membership, whilst the rest of the UK leaves. Not only would this be politically, technically, and administratively impossible, but the numbers simply don’t add up.

In 2015, Scotland sent 63% of exports to the rest of the UK, compared with just 16% to the EU. Scotland’s exports to the rest of the UK increased by 74.1% between 2002 and 2015, whereas exports to the EU increased by only 7.9%. And yet, the SNP would readily erect an economic wall between Scotland and the rest of the UK, in order to remain inside the EU’s single market.

The SNP are so fixated with independence that they would gladly hit the self-destruct button to achieve it, while the Scottish people have realised that it simply doesn’t make sense to prioritise our membership of the EU over the UK.

A contradiction at the heart of Sturgeon’s argument is that Brexit supposedly shows ‘Scotland isn’t listened to’. She has stated categorically that her preferred option is for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.

But she will be sorely disappointed if she thinks that the EU is a place where Scotland’s voice will be heard. Does she remember how the EU “listened” to Ireland when they forced them to vote twice on the Lisbon Treaty – after they got it “wrong” the first time, or how the EU “listened” to Greece when they voted “No” to more austerity? The EU never listens to its members.

Nicola forgets, every one of us in Scotland got a vote in this referendum. We were listened to, our votes were counted and the result was announced.

If Nicola is looking to blame someone for not listening to voters, she needs to look no further than her bathroom mirror. 1.6 million Remain votes do not cancel out 2 million No votes.

These very obvious flaws in the SNP argument seem to have finally hit home with recent reports circulating that the SNP are set to abandon their support for membership of the EU. Now, the cynic in me would suggest that this is down to recent polling showing that, amongst Yes/Leave voters, just 1 in 4 continue to support independence.

Faced with the choice of staying in the UK, or breaking away and joining the EU, nationalist Leave voters are choosing the UK. It simply doesn’t make sense to ditch the pound, open our borders, barter away our exclusive fishing waters, and sacrifice the lucrative UK internal market in order to maintain trading links with an ever shrinking bloc (in size and influence).

Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to use the Brexit vote to increase support for independence has been flawed. She has delegitimised the honest views held by SNP Leave voters, failed in her attempts to position Brexit as a foreign, Tory-inflicted nightmare handed down to Scotland by the English and failed to portray herself as Scotland’s defender, blocking the invasion of so-called “hard right Brexiteering” from the south. It was a flawed strategy from the start.