View from Westminster 17th March 2017

Just when you thought politics couldn’t get any more interesting, it takes another twist. The Lords amendments to the Article 50 bill were rejected by the Commons, and the Lords accepted that they had made their point with no further need to push their amendments. As this was going on, the nationalists in Scotland decided now is the time to call for a further referendum on Scottish independence, reigniting the debate about the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Constitutionally, only a referendum granted by the Westminster parliament can result in a binding outcome – that is one of the reasons why we still have Scottish MPs, resulting in the so called West Lothian paradox. But the nationalists argue that things have changed with the EU referendum and Brexit, so they are entitled to call another referendum.

This is a strange argument. Nicola Sturgeon argues that the Scottish people voted to remain in the EU, so they should have a vote to leave the UK, thus staying in the EU. But it is well known that all EU nations must agree to a new member joining and that leaving the UK would require Scotland to apply for new membership. Many EU member states have separatist movements in their countries – Spain with Catalonia is an example – and they are keen to avoid encouraging separatist activities for obvious reasons. So, if Scotland has its referendum before Brexit is completed, they may have the unexpected outcome of leaving the EU before the rest of the UK does. Even if they do it after Brexit is complete, they will have the dubious honour of leaving not one, but two single markets in close succession.

Brexit is not just a retreat from the EU. It is a journey to this country’s role as Global Britain. We are not saying “anything but EU membership”; we are looking outwards for opportunity. Scottish independence seems to be the reverse – it is “anything but the UK”.

The UK is a great country because of all its corners. Scotland, like Wales, England and Norther Ireland, contributes significantly to the whole and I would never want them to go it alone. There will be various discussions going on around the Independence v2 referendum, and much needs to be resolved. But I hope that this is not simple politics being used for short term gain at the expense of long term prosperity.