After Scottish elections which, despite not gaining an overall majority, were seen as a success for the SNP, Donald Forbes imagines the immediate aftermath of a vote for independence, the calls for which Nicola Sturgeon has vigorously renewed.

The date is September 17, 2022. The day before, Scotland's voters reversed their 2014 rejection of independence and decided they should become a country in its own right.

Late into the morning, the centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh are thronged with jubilant, flag waving nationalists heedless of the narrowness of their 51-49% victory. The hated 300-year-old union with the English is over, irrevocably.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister and architect of independence, made a brief televised speech in the wee hours urging that unity of purpose after a 'divisive' referendum campaign, her euphemism for Scots at the throats of other Scots, will make a transformative success of the new Scotland.

Already at her desk since 8am, she knows, but would never admit it outside the circle of high-level SNP loyalists who advise her, that the hard part is yet to come and there is little time to deliver. She has a raft of expensive and expansive promises to keep and the defeated 49% of the electorate will not go silent into the night. She has a little over three years until the next Scottish parliamentary elections which she knows will be a referendum on the referendum and the SNP.

Sturgeon has already put through a call to EU Commission President Ursula von Leyen, cutting short the latter's congratulations and demanding a fast track towards EU membership as a reward for Scotland's role in opposing Brexit. "You owe us this for our loyalty," she tells von Leyen.

The Scottish government's aim is momentum, to keep the initiative not just with the EU which had warned that Scotland should not expect special treatment, but did not rule it out either, and also with London. The strategy has two tracks (which look contradictory to outsiders but make sense to the SNP): first exit the UK, then join Europe.

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Sturgeon wants a sweetheart deal from London in case the EU drags its heels over Scotland because some member states with separatist problems of their own don't like such precedents being set. Her policy can be summed up as keeping the advantages of being in the UK but with all the strings removed. Will London bite?

Sturgeon believes she has Boris Johnson on the back foot after forcing him to renege on his veto of Indyref2 and intends to keep him there. Slightly more than a year has been allotted for the transition to full independence on January 1, 2024. She has decided Scotland will be an aggressive bargaining partner. She will make incessant demands that might look outlandish but will be amenable to compromise. She knows that compromise is how the modern English mind works.

As a British diplomat explained once, London's aim in any negotiation is to reach an agreement that everyone can live with. Sturgeon is confident that intransigence can make London's weakness work in Scotland's favour. In fact she depends on it. After all, the Scots are kith and kin with the sentimental old English as much as with Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders.

Whatever threats were exchanged during the referendum campaign, Scotland would ideally come to an arrangement similar to the favourable one the Irish republic has enjoyed with UK since cutting loose a century ago amid great anti-English bitterness. The biggest hurdles that confront independent Scotland will be the loss of English subsidies, which will aggravate its existing debt, and the lack of a currency of its own. The Scots will be able to use the pound whether they English agree or not but will have no voice in crucial Bank of England decisions about money supply and interest rates. This is already a serious limit on true independence.

Both will adversely affect the SNP's ability to keep its promises to make as much of the government's expanded social provision free to every Scot.

During the talks about the division of the UK assets and debt, the Scottish negotiators will have to be imaginative to limit the immediate economic damage. They could, for instance, demand reparations for the loss of North Sea oil revenues that went to the Treasury in London. Perhaps reparations also for the lack of UK investment in Scotland after the post-war collapse of its heavy industries whose loss has had terrible social consequences for the Scottish working class. The guiding idea would be to exploit English guilt.

Equally important would be the dawning on Scots at home of the realities of an independence they cannot afford while maintaining their existing standard of living. The SNP will stand or fall on the performance of the post-independence economy and the willingness of the 49% who voted against to reconcile with the separatists.

Winning independence would be a day of exaltation for SNP supporters, but the success of independence depends on multiple variables over which Scotland has no control. When Scots realise that they are still as dependent as ever on either England or Europe, the backlash against the SNP could be terrible.

33 votes

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