JLC Scotland Director Peter Speirs looks at the referendum controversy

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced on Monday 13 March her intention to hold another referendum on Scottish independence. The casus belli for this is the disparity between the proportion of people in Scotland who voted to stay in the EU (62%) and the UK-wide decision to leave. As the holding of a referendum is widely perceived as a matter reserved to Westminster, the Prime Minister refused to hold such a referendum until after the Brexit negotiations. The Scottish Parliament has now voted to empower the First Minister to hold negotiations with the UK Government about temporarily devolving the power to hold such a referendum immediately. The opinion polling has generally shown no statistically significant change to the levels of support and opposition to independence since 2014. Polls also show that around half of the population does not want to hold a referendum in the near future, whilst around a third do. In essence, virtually none of those who voted No in 2014 want another referendum, and around two thirds of those who voted Yes do. It may be the case, however, that those who do not seek another referendum want the Scottish Parliament to vote to not hold one, rather than for the Prime Minister to unilaterally decide that one cannot take place.

The essential arguments of each side in the upcoming referendum appear to be set. The Yes side will argue that an ‘increasingly politically extreme and right wing’ UK Government is out of touch with the more collectivist Scottish political mainstream, and that Scottish self-determination with continued membership of the EU provides a more stable political and economic union than the United Kingdom.  The No side will point to Scotland’s extremely large deficit (at just under 10% it is the highest in the developed world), deep economic integration with the UK (Scotland exports four times as much to the rest of the UK as it does to the rest of the EU), and potential for increased autonomy within the United Kingdom as providing a more secure basis for the Scottish economy.