The SNP are using Brexit as a smokescreen to hide their failures

6 April 2017

I like Nicola Sturgeon’s politics in the same way that I like my neighbour’s dog, Eddie Jones’ leadership style, and whoever drew those Nazi symbols up in the Sidgwick toilets. That is to say, I don’t.

She is doubtless a talented politician, who has demonstrated her skill by successfully convincing elements of the media into believing that Scotland is united behind her programme of separation, or at least behind remaining in the EU. In reality, things are far more complex than that, with the polling on separation unchanged since 2014, the SNP overstating the likely effects of Brexit, and the party itself facing a substantial challenge over the next few years, as a decade or so of mismanagement and distraction finally catch up to it. Scotland does not want separation, but we are doomed to another few years of debating it.

Brexit is unlikely to have a disproportionate impact on Scotland, compared to the rest of the UK; our financial industry, such as it is, will continue to function, and the oil and gas industry will continue to decline as the Forties dry up. The recent discovery of new fields off the West Coast of Shetland may give the industry a brief lift, but that does not distract from the fact that the oil price is declining (recent oil revenues are less than ten percent those predicted by the SNP during the 2014 referendum campaign), and that one billion barrels of oil do not provide the foundations for a stable, enduring economic settlement. Brexit will not rescue the oil industry, but it also will not destroy it — as a consequence, that sector of the Scottish economy seems set to continue down the same path of decline it has trodden for the past decade or so.

In other areas, such as agriculture, fishing and tourism, the outlook is similarly unchanged. Brexit will impact Scottish farming in the short term as EU subsidies drop off the balance sheet, but there is the potential for more funding from central government as the country adjusts to life outside the EU. A similar situation holds for the fishing industry, with the potential for the administrations in Edinburgh and London to pick up where the EU left off in administering and managing Scottish fisheries. For tourism, people will still visit the golf courses at St Andrews and the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh after Brexit — there’s even the potential for an uptick in tourist numbers, as a falling pound makes travel more attractive.

Above all, Brexit does not deny Scotland access to its largest market — namely, the rest of the UK. It will have an economic impact, but not as substantial as that predicted by the SNP, and certainly not as substantial as any impact that would result from leaving the UK. But this ignores the most important question: does Scotland want to leave?

Put simply, no. Scotland voted no in 2014 (the first ballot I ever voted in), and looks set to vote no again if asked. Apart from a brief narrowing of the polls between January and early March, the numbers have been consistently in favour of remaining in the UK, with current polling (courtesy of John Curtice’s ‘What Scotland Thinks’ blog) standing at 56 per cent in favour of remaining, compared to 44 per cent supporting separation. So, despite what Sturgeon insists in Holyrood and the media, Scotland’s view of the Union is pretty unchanged, even after the “clear and material change in circumstance” created by the Brexit vote.

Brexit will not break up the Union. The SNP are facing a strong challenge from Ruth Davidson’s Tories, and the polling indicates that if asked to choose between being Scottish and British, or Scottish and European, the Scots are far happier choosing the former. The second independence referendum is a distraction from the real issues, an artful smokescreen designed to shield the SNP from scrutiny over their failures in education, health and social care, and managing devolved funds.

The SNP have spent the past ten years governing through distraction and blame. Brexit is simply their latest vehicle. It will not impact the Union in the long term, and it will not impact the Scottish economy any more than it will impact the rest of the UK’s economy.

The real impact will come a few years down the line, when it becomes clear that the SNP have used it as a means of avoiding that which they profess to desire, namely governing. And when the consequences of a decade and a half of governmental ignorance and incompetence start to become clear, they will make any hit from Brexit look like small beer.

We can only hope that the SNP will be held to account when their blunders become manifest.