Joe Ray works in the social investment sector.
By any measure, Scotland’s Brexiteers lack political representation. Out of 59 MPs, not a single Scottish Westminster representative voted for Brexit. A mere 7 out of 129 MSP’s supporting leaving the EU. There are more Scottish-born MP’s holding English seats that voted for Brexit than there are MP’s representing actual Scottish constituencies who voted for the administrative function of triggering Article 50 to formally leave the EU (David Mundell was the only MP who did so).
Yet 38 per cent of Scots supported the UK’s departure from the European Union. Scottish Leave voters number 1,018,322, only four per cent less than the 1,059,897 who voted for the SNP to form the Scottish government in 2016. A figure Nicola Sturgeon considered so impressive that only six weeks before the EU referendum she took to the steps of Bute House to declare her party’s Scottish parliament poll count as “emphatic”, “a clear and unequivocal mandate” and one that had “made history”. Quite.
The SNP pose as the most fervently pro-EU party in Britain and now use every waking moment of their existence to weaponise Brexit for the purpose of extracting sovereignty from Westminster, to then hand it over to Brussels.
Perhaps they protest too much – as, far from being fervent Europhiles, supporters of the SNP voted in the largest number of any major political party in Scotland to leave the EU, an estimated 400,000. The SNP’s North East heartlands registered the largest votes in support of leaving the EU.
Brexit has exposed faultlines in the independence movement and has fractured it into two opposing and seemingly irreconcilable camps, that of Europhiles and Eurosceptics. The former desires Scotland to separate from the UK and then merge itself into an ever-expanding European Union, whereas the latter believes joining the European Union goes against their principles of self-determination and sovereignty. In total, a third of 2014 Yes supporters voted to leave the EU in 2016, a group which numbers approximately 500,000.
A handful of voices have given vent to the folly of the SNP’s pro-EU direction. Jim Sillars, former deputy leader of the SNP and leading light of Eurosceptic nationalists issued his “Open Letter to the Yes Movement” in March where he warned again of the danger of attaching a new secessionist campaign to EU membership. Sillars has previously declared he would not vote for independence as long as such a vote is tied to the European Union.
He is not alone. A January Yougov poll found that 35 per cent of Yes-Leavers have now abandoned their separatist position, with 25 per cent saying they would now choose to remain in the UK.
Yet the SNP and their astute cadre of advisors have seemingly ignored one mighty conundrum. On what rational basis would people vote to leave the European Union and then vote to go back in on worse terms than previously enjoyed?
How does the prospect of Eurozone membership, uncontrolled EU immigration and sending billions to Brussels in budget contributions tempt those who have already voted to leave the EU and are happy with their decision? Not only have the SNP tried to airbrush Yes-Leave voters out of Scottish history, they appear to have also expunged them from their strategic thinking.
In 2014, the Better Together campaign identified a significant group of working class floating voters who had suffered under the recession and were angry at the UK government. The Yes campaign gained a majority of their support through a populist anti-austerity message. However this group was also found to be socially conservative and sceptical about immigration and the European Union, and it is this very demographic that went on to provide a significant portion of the 2016 Leave vote in Scotland.
The SNP now have to gamble that they can offset the loss of working class Yes/Leave voters by attracting more middle class Unionists aggrieved at the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
A poll released on the eve of Sturgeon’s announcement of a second referendum demonstrated the insurmountability of this challenge. Twenty-three per cent of Yes-Leavers rate immigration as their number one political priority, far above independence at five per cent, while a mere eight per cent of No-Remainers consider independence to be their most pressing political issue, far below the NHS at 24 per cent.
How can Schengen membership ever be attractive to people who voted to leave the EU to regain control of immigration? How does the sado-austerity of the Eurozone appeal to voters who find Tory welfare cuts objectionable? How does one attract middle class Scots concerned about what currency they will be using to pay back their mortgage with an inducement to implement a new, untested Scottish currency followed by a commitment to join the Euro? How does one tempt North East fisherman to renounce their historic fishing territories and hand back control of them to the EU? The SNP appear to have consciously chosen a position to fight a referendum where the electoral demographics are worse than in 2014.
The EU referendum has offered to Unionists the opportunity to do what any sensible military strategist would recommend when confronted with a united and advancing force: to divide the opposition and turn them against each other. By splitting the separatist vote, Brexit has helped make it harder for Caledonian secessionists to triumph in any future referendum.
Scottish Brexiteers are crucial to the fortunes of Scottish independence. A second referendum is forthcoming in 2019 or later. It will be dominated by issues of the European Union and Brexit, and this under-appreciated faction now potentially holds the fate of the United Kingdom in its hands.
The numbers of Scottish Leave voters are such that they are able to tilt the scales in favour of defeating any future separatist campaign aimed at taking Scotland out of the UK and into the EU.
However their numbers are not significant enough that the SNP can expend much energy on them to generate support for their pro-EU prospectus for separating from the UK. The end result will be large numbers of Yes-Leavers choosing to remain in the UK, with many others abstaining. The SNP cannot win independence without the EU and they cannot win with the EU. Scottish Brexiteers are the most under-represented constituency in British politics and with the future of the United Kingdom hanging in the balance they are now also one of the most important.