On Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon blamed Brexit on the UK Government’s austerity policies. Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in London, the Scottish First Minister warned listeners she was “profoundly concerned” about the implications of the UK leaving the EU, with the early signs “not encouraging”.
Sturgeon’s response stands in stark contrast to the positive case set out by the UK Prime Minister Theresa May who, in a column in Holyrood magazine, stressed Brexit will ‘enhance’ Scotland’s standing in the world rather than diminish it.
Sturgeon’s pessimism may seem surprising considering the recent economic data which has proven the economic Armageddon promised by ‘Project Fear’ – which Ms Sturgeon contributed to – has failed to materialise.
Even the Pro-EU OECD has admitted, following Brexit the early signs are far better than they predicted. The reality is, however, Sturgeon is not really talking about Brexit, but rather the SNP’s hopes of an independent Scotland.
In September 2014, when the SNP put forward its economic case for independence, it did so based on two main assumptions, which it regarded as guaranteed: high oil prices and membership of the EU. The high oil prices would ensure sufficient revenue to cover any of the immediate costs which would have resulted from independence, including the loss of funding from Westminster.
It also provided the added bonus of allowing the SNP to paint a rose-tinted view of an independent Scotland being a land of milk and honey.
Oh how things change!
The fall of global oil prices has already dealt the SNP a grievous blow. Had Scotland gained independence in 2014 it would now be facing a £10 billion-plus black hole. This would have required the SNP to cut spending by 18%, raise taxes by 21% or implement a mixture of the two. The SNP’s leadership have repeatedly refused to answer how they would rectify this massive deficit, suggesting they have no realistic economic plan.
The SNP has found itself caught in a trap of its own making. They have been more than happy for Westminster to subsidise Scotland, thereby enabling them to adopt feel-good policies, such as free university tuition and universal free prescriptions. Sturgeon et al are already finding the realities of autonomy to be rather challenging.
On Tuesday, the first shipment of US shale gas was delivered to a petrochemicals plant in Grangemouth, Scotland. Ineos, the owner of the plant, stressed the importance of the gas to ensure the future of the plant’s workforce. You would think the SNP would be over the moon on this momentous occasion, but surprisingly the Scottish Government was unable to find a minister able to attend.
This may have something to do with the SNP’s moratorium on all fracking in Scotland. You would have also thought Sturgeon would welcome the huge potential fracking would present for Scotland, especially considering the recent North Sea job losses. But this would go against the SNP’s grassroots who are viciously anti-fracking, and so Sturgeon has had to let this opportunity go by.
It is not surprising to find Sturgeon moaning about Brexit. It is far easier than dealing with the serious and complex issues back in Scotland. The SNP is becoming increasingly divided over Brexit. On one side are the hardliners, led by Alex Salmond, who only want to use Brexit as an excuse for calling a second Independence referendum. On the other are those who, like the former Health Minister Alex Neil, see the potential Brexit presents for further devolved powers to Scotland.
Sturgeon can try and blame Brexit on whoever she wants, but it does not solve the problems she and the SNP face. She can complain Brexit is going against the wishes of Scotland, but this is choosing to ignore the fact over half a million more Scots voted to Remain part of the UK in 2014 than those who voted to Remain in the EU two years later.
The reality is Brexit has seriously damaged the SNP’s hopes of independence for Scotland and Sturgeon knows it. The sooner we Get Britain Out of the EU the better.
Jayne Adye is the Director of cross-party, grassroots Eurosceptic group Get Britain Out