During the EU referendum campaign, it was an article of faith amongst Remainers that a vote to stay in the EU was a vote to protect the Union.
Brexiteer unionists, including those of us who wrote on the subject for this site, were accused of allowing our preoccupation with Europe to put at risk the very existence of the United Kingdom.
There are few excuses for continuing to indulge this myth in 2020. But such is its extraordinary staying power that Lewis Goodall, of Newsnight, has accrued thousands of likes for a short Twitter thread extolling this decayed orthodoxy.
Panic in No 10 about the union but surprising it’s taken them by surprise. Trying to retain Scotland, after a period where its lack of veto power on fundamental political questions (Ie Brexit/no deal) has been/is being revealed repeatedly, was always going to be very difficult.
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) July 23, 2020
This is undoubtedly a challenging period for the UK. But trying to stretch the fallout from Covid-19 to retrospectively validate the Remain position on the Union is re-writing history. So let’s set the record straight, again.
First, one can only assume that when Goodall writes that “few answers were/are forthcoming” from Brexiteer unionists about the potential impact of leaving the EU, he is not an assiduous reader of this site. We set out detailed cases for why voters should be sceptical about the doom-laden predictions of the Remain campaign in relation both to Scotland and to Wales.
Our central point was that EU membership actually made it much easier to break up the Union, both by providing a high ceiling for ongoing relations and legal harmonisation post-divorce and by laundering British cash (as a net contributor) back into Scotland and Wales as ‘EU funds’.
Disagree with this if you wish – people did – but it is therefore simply inaccurate to claim that there wasn’t a perfectly serviceable unionist justification for Brexit.
Moreover, in the years since this was borne out by events. Nicola Sturgeon came out hard for a second referendum the morning after the referendum but soon found herself beached, marooned by the failure of Scottish public opinion to follow her cue.
In fact (and again, as we covered at the time) the SNP went on to become a committed partner in the ‘Stop Brexit’ coalition precisely because they recognised how difficult Britain’s departure from the EU would make their project. The key quotation again:
“Labour could well find an ally in the Scottish Nationalists. A senior SNP figure told me this week that Scottish independence all but depends on Brexit being cancelled: without the economic safety net of the single market, Scots won’t risk a leap out of the UK. Only a second EU vote could provide that reassurance.”
The fact that more recent circumstances, specifically the massive pandemic, have revived the SNP’s fortunes should not mean that Remainers get to throw the above down the memory hole and re-write 2016-19 to bolster their original, threadbare thesis.