Scottish independence looms over Brexit
The FT’s Sebastian Payne rounds up this week’s Brexit news. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday managed to spectacularly steal prime minister Theresa May’s thunder by announcing she would be seeking another referendum before the UK leaves the EU.
Scotland has dominated the news this week as Nicola Sturgeon announced she was calling a second referendum on breaking up the UK. It was a question of when, not if Nicola sturgeon would stage another vote on independence. Scotland's first minister managed to spectacularly steal the prime minister's thunder on Monday by announcing she would be seeking another referendum crucially before the UK has left the EU. This has had an immediate impact on Theresa May's Brexit plans.
The prime minister was lined up to trigger Article 50 this week, kicking off the formal divorce talks, but its extra uncertainty has delayed it now to the end of March. The biggest debate is going to be about timing. Ms Sturgeon said she wants to hold the vote around the autumn of 2018. But it's not entirely up to her. The prime minister is very unlikely to give the go-ahead to any referendum while she's still trying to negotiate Brexit. She is right that the extra uncertainty will make brokering a deal even harder.
Economically, the case for Scottish independence is worse than it's ever been. Scotland currently has a 15 billion pound deficit. There's no obvious currency for an independent Scotland, nor would it be able to immediately join the EU.
Then we have North Sea oil. Scottish nationalists have long said it would support the economy after independence and predicted it would be about 7 billion pounds by now. In fact, it sunk to zero. Scotland would therefore have to face eye-watering austerity if it left the rest of the UK. So if Scotland does vote for independence, it will be based on emotion, not fact. As we've often seen recently, this is the driver of how people vote.
Mrs. May finds herself in the same position as her predecessor, David Cameron. As well as fighting for Britain's place in Europe, she has to hold together the UK as well. Next week, we can expect to hear a lot more from Mrs. may about how she intends to deal with the threat of the independence vote while she moves towards beginning the Brexit process. But undoubtedly, her job as prime minister has just got a lot harder.
Produced by Alessia Giustiniano. Filmed by Nicola Stansfield.