If you’ve ever played a card game that involves bluffing, you will no doubt be aware that it crucially depends on the players not being able to see each other’s cards. I can pretend that I have four aces only if my cards are hidden. This makes it possible for me to bluff. It also makes it possible for me to win even if I have a very poor hand. Indeed my hand may be worse than yours. It all depends on what I am willing to risk.
Nicola Sturgeon has continually been telling everyone for some time that she is not bluffing. But which card player would admit to bluffing? While piling my poker chips ever higher I may suggest that I am not bluffing, but it doesn’t mean that I actually have four aces. The confidence of a poker player may be in inverse proportion to the strength of this hand. The bluff only works because of the apparent confidence.
The difficulty with politics as opposed to cards however, is that we can all see each other’s cards. Every little detail is debated endlessly in the papers. During interviews politicians are asked about their intentions. Eventually a pretty clear picture emerges of the cards that are held.
Nicola Sturgeon gave the game away last week. Since last June she has been making threats on a daily basis. At one point apparently she contemplated calling an immediate second independence referendum in response to Brexit. But she didn’t. She waited for the polls to show an increase in support for independence. But they didn’t.
At first Sturgeon demanded that Scotland must be allowed to both stay in the UK and the EU or else she would demand another independence referendum. Now she demands that Scotland must somehow remain in the EU Single Market even if the UK leaves. But it is becoming ever more apparent that Scotland will not get a special deal and that the UK will not remain in the Single Market. In response to this Sturgeon tells us that there will not be an independence referendum in 2017.
I don’t think there should be another independence referendum ever. I don’t believe that the UK Government has an obligation to give in to SNP threats. They certainly don’t have to do so at the moment. The SNP do not have a mandate, not least because independence was barely mentioned during the last Scottish Parliament election. What’s more the SNP did not win an overall majority. But anyway constitutional matters are outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament. You cannot have a mandate to do something that is outside of your control. Neither Scottish independence nor EU membership are devolved issues. They are therefore quite literally not the business of the Scottish Parliament, nor are they properly speaking the business of the SNP.
For reasons that are unclear to me in Britain we allow some people to threaten to destroy our country while spending vast amounts of money on armed forces to protect ourselves against others who want to do likewise.
I think Nicola Sturgeon has poor cards. My guess is that she thinks this too. But don’t let’s be overconfident. Her chance of winning is about 50/50. Support for independence rose from 25% to 45% last time. It could certainly rise from 45% to 50.01% if there were a next time. Let us do all in our power to prevent their being a next time. The future of our country cannot amount to a coin toss where we continually must get a head, but if it ever comes down tails we lose forever. No country in the world would accept these odds, nor should we. It is vital that Pro UK people work to change the assumptions that underpin Scottish politics. We must not play the game according to SNP rules.
Rationally the case for Scottish independence is continually getting worse. Nicola Sturgeon’s latest announcement makes it worse still. It is likely that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March and the process of leaving the EU will take two years. But this means that Sturgeon has missed her window of opportunity. The SNP optimistically thought that leaving the UK could be achieved in the space between September 2014 and March 2016. But this means that even if an independence referendum were held in 2018, an independent Scotland would begin life both outside the UK and outside the EU. What this means is that we would neither be part of the UK’s single market nor a part of the EU’s single market. If the SNP had been granted an independence referendum last summer they might just have beaten the clock and been able to leave the UK while remaining in the EU. But that moment has passed. Now in order to join the EU an independent Scotland would have to apply in the same way as any other applicant such as Albania or Moldova or Ukraine. How long would that take?
As I have argued for some time, Brexit makes the case for Scottish independence much harder to make. It is vital that we use this opportunity to make this point ever clearer. If the UK leaves the EU Single Market then whatever trade deal the UK has with the EU and with anyone else in the world for that matter will depend on being a part of the UK. This means that if we have a deal with Australia or the United States, then Scotland would cease to benefit from this deal if we decided to leave the UK. The more Scotland depends on UK trade deals the better. This is the opportunity that Brexit gives us.
Lots of SNP supporters voted to leave the EU. If we can make a success of Brexit, then these people are more likely to support the continuance of the UK rather than Scottish independence which brings with it future EU membership. By being continually negative about the prospects of the UK Pro UK Remain supporters are liable to play into the hands of the SNP. If the UK can come out of the negotiations with the EU in a way that is both advantageous for the UK and for the EU we will have a good argument to make against Scottish nationalism. Future UK economic prosperity is our best argument against the SNP. Anyone who hopes that the UK gets a poor deal from the EU or that leaving the EU damages us economically should frankly join the SNP.
Leaving the EU gives us the chance to make the argument that in order for Scotland to become independent there would need to be a hard border between Scotland and England. If Scotland as a new EU member state had to sign up to Schengen, the Euro and free movement of people it is hard to see how we could avoid having a manned border. What would prevent anyone arriving in Scotland just getting on a bus to London? How moreover would it be possible to add customs duties to goods that were traded from Scotland to England if anyone could simply drive a lorry across the border? For this reason it is vital for the UK negotiating team to not give away anything with regard to the Northern Ireland border that might set a precedent with regard to Scotland. The Republic of Ireland may amount to a special case because it is not a member of Schengen, and this may allow a degree of leeway, but it is important that the UK does not lose the opportunity to show Scots voters that one of the things that independence gives you is an international border and international borders are not merely lines on the map. Better by far to man the Irish border than give the SNP an argument that they can use to break up Britain. This would also be in Northern Ireland’s long term interest as it is hard to imagine its present status continuing when Scottish independence would mean the UK ceased to exist.
At present the EU funds many things in Scotland. What this really means is that the UK gives the EU money and some of that money is given back to us. After Brexit it will be the UK Government that takes over the funding role. Well every time at present there is an EU flag, let that after Brexit be a Union flag. Make it clear to everyone who gets money for their farm or for their research grant or for anything whatsoever that the money comes from the UK. Those that can’t stand the UK’s flag, may decide that they don’t wish to receive the money.
The argument is going our way. Brexit is making the argument for Scottish independence harder to make. It is partly for this reason that support for independence has not increased and why Nicola Sturgeon is scared to play out the hand and show the cards she actually holds. The only card she really holds is nationalism. In a Scottish context nationalism is almost identical with victimhood and grievance. Those nasty English people voted differently from us nice Scots again. How dare they? With variants this is Sturgeon’s only argument. Unfortunately it is very persuasive to many Scots.
We must be careful not to add to the grievance. You will have to wait Nicola, is better than "No", but it can amount to the same thing. It is even more important to continually emphasise that most of the things that we like about living in Scotland depend on our being an integral part of the UK. The window of opportunity may have closed for the SNP. If we remain vigilant and if we accept the opportunities that Brexit gives us we may well secure the future of our country forever.