The world changed on 23 June 23. As England and Wales voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted to remain. Every part of Scotland, across every age and class divide. So now there is a constitutional dilemma. In 2014, Scotland voted to stay in the UK. Two years later, and by a bigger majority, we voted to stay in Europe. As things stand both of these things can’t be done and so the search is on to see if this circle can be squared.
And if it can’t then the only option which may allow that pro-European aspiration to be delivered is for Scotland to become a self-governing nation. To be clear, we are not necessarily on the road to a second independence referendum – but we might be. It’s time to fill the tank and check the engine so that we are ready if and when the time comes to put the machine in gear.
We simply do not know what options may emerge. The EU in the past has been flexible in finding ways to deal with new situations – and it is not impossible that a way can be found to have special status which would allow us to keep our European passports as our neighbours to the south give up theirs. Matters are not made easy by the disarray in the British government post Brexit. No-one, it seems, had a plan for this, and no-one is coming up with one anytime soon. The principles that will underpin a British departure from, and its future relationship with, the EU will not be settled until the internal debate in the Tory party is resolved.
We must insist that delivering the wishes of the Scottish people for a different relationship is part of the Brexit negotiations when they start. And in preparation for that, options can be explored over the next three months whilst the UK government struggles out of its current paralysis.
Whatever those options are, it is likely that they will require political will, not just here but also in Brussels and Westminster, to have any chance of implementation. There is always the risk that a new Tory administration will simply put two fingers up to any possible hybrid solution and say it is taking Scotland out of the EU no matter what.
It is crucial at this time that those who see independence as the way forward engage with those who voted ‘no’ in 2014 about how to move on from here. If we reach the point, as I think we will, that an evaluation has to be made and independence is the only option left standing, then the range of people involved in reaching that conclusion must be as wide as possible.
Whatever happens, the simple truth is that the UK people voted to be part of in 2014 will no longer exist. That in itself will change minds. In the same way you can get your money back if the goods are faulty, so many will want their vote back if the deal has changed.
I’m aware, of course, that opinion is divided on the left, and within the independence movement, on the question of the EU itself – with a significant minority against. Indeed, it seems that just over a third of SNP supporters voted to leave last month. Should people who voted to leave the EU support a future proposal for an independent Scotland that stays within it? It’s time to get real. Of course, they should.
The possibility of a second referendum is predicated upon the constitutional outrage of Scotland being taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people who live here. The principle at stake is not whether the EU is a good or a bad thing but whether the wishes of the people of Scotland are respected. That is not to say that if there is the opportunity to change the proposed relationship between an independent Scotland and the EU for the better we should not seize it.
Independence is and always has been about the right to choose. Those who want an independent Scotland to be outside the EU can argue that case once we have independence. To sabotage the prospect of self-government because they disagree with the current majority opinion in Scotland would be an extraordinary act of collective self-harm.
Tommy Sheppard is the (SNP) MP for Edinburgh East.