When the real referendum campaign takes off, not the current ‘phoney war’, watch out for a few key issues:
Complacency and turn out:
Recent polls suggest up to two-thirds of voters in Scotland would vote for the UK to remain in the EU, much higher than England or Wales, though not as high as Northern Ireland.
But overall opinions on the EU are not that firmly held. Immigration and the ‘democratic deficit’ will be at the heart of the ‘leave’ campaign and may sway voters. And ‘leave’ voters are more likely to turn out to vote.
So while Scotland looks strongly pro-EU, by polling day the majority might shrink – there is no room for complacency.
‘Brexit’ – and a second independence referendum?
A UK vote to leave the EU would cause shockwaves. In Scotland, assuming a majority voted to stay, independence debates would get stronger again. And Nicola Sturgeon may be rapidly on a plane to Brussels, telling the EU’s leaders that Scotland wants no part of ‘Brexit’.
But would Brexit shift voters towards independence? Watch out for opinion polls on this in the next few months. If polls show little shift towards independence, Sturgeon may not make a move. But if the polls shift strongly, ‘indyref2’ could happen faster than many anticipate.
If England votes for Brexit, watch out for Brussels being much more sympathetic on an independent Scotland joining the EU. And watch out for difficult debates about the Scotland-England border, which on Scottish independence would become the external border of the EU.
UK stays in the EU – tricky for Scotland’s next independence referendum:
If Scotland keeps a reluctant England in the EU, Brussels will doubtless be grateful for the more pro-European instincts of Scottish voters. But ironically the EU will become more wary of Scottish independence since it might, in the future, trigger a second, negative EU referendum in England. Watch out for more Brussels scare-mongering on Scottish independence in that case.
Also watch out for big recriminations in the Tory party and a boost to English nationalism. And watch out for some SNP sympathy for England having its future determined by other nations.
Scotland leaves the EU along with the rest of the UK:
If the independence polls do not shift much after a Brexit vote, Scotland will leave the EU too.
Watch out for Scotland demanding, but not getting, a strong say in what future relationship the UK negotiates with the EU. Also watch out for Scotland demanding more devolution in several EU policy areas. Tough political debates and recriminations will abound.
Overall, one thing is clear: once the EU referendum is over, the political impacts will only just be beginning.
This blog first appeared at the Centre for Constitutional Change and is reproduced with permission