Since the recent general election there have been calls for the SNP Government to remove their request for permission to hold a new independence referendum. The Scottish Conservatives, Liberals and Labour Parties all argue that their relative success means there is no basis for such a new vote (of course it is also worth remembering that the SNP still have 35 out of 56 Westminster seats).
However, there are problems on both sides of this argument.
The Scottish Government sought a new referendum mainly out of frustration that the UK Conservative Government was not speaking to any of the devolved legislatures. At the same time they were interpreting a narrow vote to leave the EU as a vote to exit the Single Market - a decision guarenteed to undermine the UK economy. In that context the SNP wanted to run a new independence referendum when the terms of the UK's exit from the EU were clear but before Scotland was actually pulled out of the EU. That was, and remains, a reasonable position, especially given the enduring uncertainty about the UK Government's approach and lack of confidence in their competence in any negotiations.
But. The recent general election possibly has changed things. As far as anyone can work out, the UK Conservative Party remains committed to its UKIP-friendly model of Brexit with a near end to net migration and the UK out of the European Single Market. However, it no longer has the parliamentary votes to sustain this approach. The Labour Party's position remains an enigma wrapped in a black hole. Various senior politicians are pro or anti-single market and there is no real idea what they are seeking. However, I still think that in practice they will come to accept the Single Market and Free Movement (in other words EEA/EFTA terms).
Which brings us to the algebra of independence. It may still be the case - mainly due to the incompetence and incoherence of the UK negotiating position - that the UK crashes ouf of the EU onto WTO terms. It is almost definitely the case that the UK Government will fail to negotiate with the devolved legislations - after all what they want still remains a mystery. So Scotland could yet be dragged ouf of the EU against its expressed will - a situation that deserves to be tested by a vote?
On these grounds, the Scottish Government should not withdraw its request but should make it clear it will not progress this request as long as the UK can exit the EU onto EEA/EFTA terms. But equally, till the UK position is clear it is impractical to seek to progress this. At the moment, depressingly, it appears the Conservatives are sticking to their pre-General Election obsession with migration and fantasies as to the nature of the deal that can be agreed with the EU - but, fortunately, it is equally clear there is now no majority for this stance in the House of Commons.
Which, by a round about way brings us to the algebra of independence. In particular how likelihood to vote yes or no in such a case overlaps with support for a new referendum in the short term.
Broadly it is feasible to split the Scottish electorate into three groups. One (lets say around 25%) believe the only proper relationship to the rest of the UK is independence. Many of this group would support independence even if it was clear it would mean people would be worse off. On the other hand, around 35% believe that Scotland should never be independent. This group includes the Orange Order, those in the Edinburgh middle classes who do exceptionally well from the current devolution settlement and the more 'loyalist' element of Unionism (in effect the electoral coalition of the current Scottish Conservative party). This group mostly would not vote for independence even if it made Scotland better off.
Fairly obviously, the 'no-never' group are not only opposed to independence but any further electoral testing of that proposition. On the other hand, most of the 'yes-of course' group would be in support of a referendum whenever it was called - though some might object on tactical grounds.
The remaining 40% could be said to be persuadable either way (though most have made their minds up). Thus we tend to see support for independence shifting around the 45% achieved in 2014. But it is also this group that is more likely to be unsure about a referendum in the next few years than they might be about independence as an abstract idea.
Two groups stand out in understanding why 'no, not now' seems to triumph over 'yes-,maybe later'.
Put Corbyn, and renewed hope of exiting onto EEA/EFTA terms, together and many who might vote yes (and some who did so in 2014) in effect are saying 'not now'. But it is a caution based on possibilities, not least it is far from impossible that a weakened Conservative Government contrives a disastrous exit simply due to incompetence.
But the algebra seems clear:
'Yes-of course'<''Yes now' (even if not by many)
'No but it depends' = 'No now'
In effect the potential Unionist vote is against a referendum in the short term and the potential nationalist vote is divided due to the new possibilities at a UK level. So the Scottish Government would be right not to withdraw its request but well advised to make it clear that, it too, wishes to wait and see?
It also indicates that lukewarm support for an independence referendum at the moment is a poor guide to voting intentions if one is to be held.
So since no-one else really knows what is going to happen here is my contribution. This is more political than some blogs but then my basic interest is in Political Economy.
Am quite prepared to find out I was wrong in a few days time..
So where are we? It was clear (in so far as anything about May was ever clear) that May was aiming for a hard Brexit having fully absorbed the UKIP argument that a narrow vote to leave the EU meant a vote to exit all the structures and institutions of the EU. In particular May's refusal to accept the European Court of Justice as an arbitrar of any deal meant exclusion from the vitally important single market.
If the election on 8 June said anything, it was pretty clear it is rejection of the UKIP/Tory right vision of being outside the EU.
Before and during the election it was easy to poke holes in Labour's evolving, never clear, post-EU strategy. I'd suggest now that the lack of clarity is going to be rather helpful. Quite simply, the Labour Party is not really committed to any particular form of future relationship but is fairly clear about the tone and style of that relationship.
So what satisfies most people - with the exception of UKIP and the Tory right? I'd suggest exit onto EEA/EFTA terms. This is simple - it already exists. Attractive to the EU, not only is it simple in form it has the advantage of not over-taxing the UK political and administrative processes. So I suspect the EU would be happy to agree that with almost no discussion. It would match the manifestos of Labour and the SNP. Even those of us who really want to stay in the EU could accept it as a valid compromise.
Of interest, it would also suit the Conservatives new friends in the profoundly reactionary Democratic Unionist Party. In terms of domestic policy this grouping will reinforce every one of May's reactionary social views and profoundly authoritarian outlook. But there is one important caveat. They are opposed to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. They are also opposed to any special deal for Northern Ireland - as this will help slowly separate the province from the rest of the UK. So to them, EEA terms are ideal - no need for anything special to be done to keep a single market across Ireland.
So where does the vote leave Scotland?
First the drop in SNP MPs is not in itself particularly meaningful. Scotland is a pluralist political society with 5 parties with significant support. This is well represented in the Scottish Parliament due to the electoral system and reflected in that no local council in Scotland is controlled by a single party. Coalitions - informal or formal - are part of the Scottish political system. So a return to a pluralistic Scottish block of MPs is good.
As with any major shift, there are some losses to regret. Angus Robertson will be missed as leader of the SNP group for his effectiveness in Parliament. But then some very good Labour MPs lost their seats in 2015 (among the dross).
Second. A Corbyn led Labour Party standing on a sensible social democratic manifesto has posed serious questions to the SNP. It has had a relatively easy time presenting itself as bejng on the left (not hard when compared to New Labour) while governing in a very cautious centrist model. One reason for the loss of MPs was a boring campaign by the SNP and that reflects a lack of political clarity.
Third. IndyRef2 now has to be off the cards for a while. If Brexit is now going to be on EEA/EFTA terms then the SNP's manifesto is met in that regard (membership of the single market/free movement of labour). This is not true of course if May manages to mess up the negotiations by sticking to her UKIP inspired stance.
Four. One driver to independence was despair that the UK as a whole could not elect a government marginally to the left of the depressing mantras spouted by Blair and Brown (and the rest of the New Labour crowd). Clearly now not true. That may affect the views of many who saw independence as a pratical route to a particular goal rather than as a desired result in itself.
Five. The return of the Tories means that the Scottish left must stop patting itself on the back that in some profound way Scotland is different. Their gains in the earlier local elections clearly had much to do with a very disturbing alliance with the Orange Order and the Loyalist elements within Unionism. No one wants to see those ghouls disturbed and brought back to the centre of Scottish politics. But in this election we have basically seen them pick up the parts of rural Scotland where the 'estate vote' is strong. Not only does this emphasise the need for land reform it reminds us that we do have a strong reactionary element in the Scottish body politic.
So the case for independence needs to be rethought. The now derided options of Devo-max and fiscal autonomy may come back into favour.
Of course if we have another general election later this year and are back to a reactionary Conservative majority - well then that changes things (again).
IPPR Scotland have organised a series of events with Scottish politicians to talk about how the UK decision to leave the EU might affect Scotland. So far they have organised events with Gordon Brown, Nicola Sturgeon, and David Mundell.
The broad themes of each speaker reflected what you might expect to hear from a staunch Labour supporter of the Union, a social democrat who believes in Scottish independence and a liberal minded Conservative constrained by the lack of clarity as to UK Government policy post-Brexit.
So, for Brown, the need, yet again is for a new form of relationship between the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments. As ever, listening to Brown explain why he is absolutely right, the overriding emotion is to shout 'why didn't you do that when you were in power for 13 years'?
Nicola Sturgeon argued that retaining a relationship for Scotland that is as close to conventional membership of the EU is essential. In particular, the free movement of people, and inward migration, has long been accepted as key if Scotland is to have a prosperous future. While it was inevitable that her speech would be intrerpeted (by some) as simply using Brexit to push Scottish independence, I think her argument was more nuanced. The SNP were prepared to work with anyone to secure a messy deal that retained key relationships for Scotland but was also prepared to push for independence if that remained the only option.
David Mundell spent most of his speech attacking the SNP for raising the possibility of a second independence referendum. Most of this was predictable and familiar but it was surprising to be told that Better Together had not argued that voting to stay in the UK was the only way to preserve EU membership in 2014. Apparently, David Cameron had given a rather obscure speech in 2013 setting out his case for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU (this and a few other parts of his speech just came over far too much like listening to a Government press-release).
In respect of the issue of the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU all gave very different answers. This did not rate a mention from Brown as he went on about his understanding of constitutional theory. Nicola Sturgeon was honest that the SNP could not resolve the uncertainty but was fully committed to free movement of people. Mundell, tried to defend the UK Government line that this an issue for 'negotiation' and was very angry to be accused of using people as bargaining chips.
So, three months after the Brexit vote, we still have no UK Government policy. In turn that means any attempt to work out the best solution for Scotland is nearly impossible. But it is increasingly becoming clear that the UK Government wants to end free movement of people and, from what Mundell said, is not really prepared to work out a separate deal for Scotland.