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On the rocks (Hindu.)

A second referendum on independence may not be in Scotland’s best interest

The timing of the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, to seek a second referendum on independence for Scotland may be no more than strategic. Her call on Monday coincided with the U.K. Parliament’s adoption of a landmark legislation to begin talks to exit the European Union. But Ms. Sturgeon’s move should remind Westminster that the thought of separation from the British union has never fully been excised from the popular imagination in Scotland, despite the resounding 2014 vote to stay. Recent developments seem to have hardened public sentiment against continuing in the United Kingdom among the Scots, who had voted overwhelmingly in June 2016 to remain in the EU. The popular mood in favour of independence did surge briefly, as reflected in opinion polls soon after the Brexit vote. But the support receded in subsequent months. The prospects for a separate Scotland once again revived after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s landmark speech in January, in which she made clear her decision to quit the common market. It is futile to speculate on what better terms might have been offered to assuage sentiment in the north, as Ms. May has prioritised immigration control as the red line in her negotiations with her counterparts in the bloc. But Edinburgh has been growing more impatient of late with London over its demands.

The greatest political challenge for the Conservative government in London as it acts to take Britain out of the 28-country bloc, is to put forward a coherent and convincing case for Scotland to remain in the U.K. The economic argument for Edinburgh to leave is apparently at its weakest, given the recent slump in oil prices and a mounting fiscal deficit. The champions of access to the common market also run up against the argument that a large share of Scotland’s trade is within the U.K. However, such rational arguments against independence may not cut much ice given that London’s steps to effect Brexit continue to be divisive nearly a year after the vote. In fact, the advocates of independence are likely to argue that if London can rip apart a European partnership of four decades so easily on grounds of restoring national sovereignty, it may well one day reconsider Scottish devolution. But the proponents of Scottish separation would be most short-sighted to promise the moon to potential followers. In fact, countries such as Spain that are fighting their own secessionist movements are unlikely to back the current bid by the Scottish National Party. Edinburgh’s EU entry would have to be ratified by every single member state, a prospect that would commit them to make similar concessions. Europe’s leaders, alive to the sensitivities of undermining the sovereignty of member nations, have repeatedly cautioned against expectations of an automatic guarantee of admission in the event that Edinburgh exits Britain.


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