We booked our holiday to Lake Como before the date of the referendum was announced, but there are worse places from which to watch the turmoil that has raged since Britain voted to leave the EU.
In a few days so many momentous things have occurred. The Prime Minister has resigned, as have half the Shadow Cabinet, the UK’s European Commissioner and the England football manager. The value of the Pound has plummeted, Britain’s credit rating has been downgraded and forecasts for the growth of the economy have been slashed.
In the eye of the storm, it is worth pausing to remember what has not happened. Britain has not left the EU. The referendum was merely an expression of opinion and the Act which caused it to be held did not oblige the Government to abide by the decision — although politically it would be very difficult to ignore it.
No negotiations on Britain’s exit — if there is to be one — can take place until we invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and we do not yet even have a proposed timetable for that. We do not know who the next Prime Minister will be, let alone what his or her policy will be. We have said we want to leave, but we haven’t said when and we haven’t said what sort of relationship with Europe we want in the future.
In these circumstances talk of a second referendum on Scottish independence “in order to keep Scotland in the EU” is meaningless. What relationship an independent Scotland would have with the EU was never settled in 2014 and is even less clear now. The wilder suggestions to safeguard our position — an alliance with Gibraltar for example —would probably make things worse.
The sensible course in these circumstances is to do little and wait for the position to clarify. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that a second independence referendum is “on the table” and that is where it should remain — undisturbed.
There is nothing in it for her in picking it up. The referendum in 2014 was divisive and distracting and contributed to the failures of Government she is now trying to correct, particularly in education and health. To become embroiled in the constitutional issue again unnecessarily would divert her from pressing policy aims.
There is no credible evidence to believe that the result of a second referendum would be any different than the first — last weekend’s headlines notwithstanding. Recent polls have indicated the same outcome and for every No voter tempted to switch sides to keep Scotland in the EU there may be one who believes that cutting ourselves off from our largest market to secure access to our second largest market makes no sense.
To lose a second referendum on independence would put Ms Sturgeon in a similar position to the one in which David Cameron now finds himself. To win would be even worse.
The economic case for independence was not convincing two years ago. The collapse of the oil price since then would mean an independent Scottish Government having to impose savage spending cuts on services like health, welfare and education — harming the very people the First Minister claims to want to help.
She is right to want to safeguard Scotland’s position, but the way to do that is to engage with those who want to keep Britain in the EU or to negotiate an arrangement which gives us as many of the benefits as possible.
Threatening a second constitutional crisis would not help us resolve the one we already have.
This post was first published by the David Hume Institute