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ALEX BELL: Scottish independence must happen in five years or the moment will close

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Five years ago, Indy fans thought the UK voting “Yes” for Brexit would hasten independence. Five years – what a surprise.

Back then I wrote that Nats should be careful what they wish for, as an England out of the EU would make life much harder for Scotland to become independent. To recap, there are three big problems.

The first is the border. There would need to be one. We’ve had five years of wrangling over Northern Ireland because it has a land border with the Republic which is in the EU. Nobody much discussed this before the Brexit vote but we all know it now.

You can’t allow the free flow of trade across a border between different customs zones. That is why Johnson’s deal gives Northern Ireland unique status. Indy Scotland would have to negotiate its own special status but most likely accept whatever terms Europe on one hand and England and Wales on the other agree.

Not an impossible hurdle but a high one. It’s not in the EU’s interest to have Scotland as a back door to England, as it would give Scots a big advantage over other members. As for the rump UK, what is its incentive to strike an equitable deal – after all, Scotland will be ending the British union.

Then there is currency. Nat Nostradamus Andrew Wilson says the pound will be kept for as long as Scotland wants. Clinging to Sterling, a currency Scotland would not control, when attempting to join the euro zone smacks of a Johnsonian level arrogance along the lines of cake and eating it.

Brussels will tell Scotland to adopt the euro. That isn’t a terrible outcome, though it would affect financial services, Scotland’s biggest money maker. It would also affect pensions and countless other arrangements.

The third issue is sequence. Say Scots vote for Indy next year. Negotiations between Edinburgh and London begin immediately. Brexit took four years and that seems a reasonable estimate for the end of the union. Scotland will, like the UK in Brexit, be simultaneously wanting to leave while also getting the best deal it can on future relations.

While this is going on, Scots would need to hold another referendum on joining the EU. Indyref2 only determines one question about independence. All the other matters, like being in the EU or joining Nato or ending child poverty, are political points for later.

The legality of a nation not yet free of the UK, therefore not yet sovereign, deciding on joining the EU, is unclear but let’s assume pragmatism prevails. Then assume Scots vote to join the EU in this latest referendum. Negotiations are now between Edinburgh and London, Edinburgh and Brussels and Brussels and London.

Not impossible but very complex. Then recall that the SNP’s “terms” for joining the EU are to reject the euro and to get an exemption from the fisheries and agriculture policies. Not an oven-ready position but a very picky menu nonetheless.

In the past five years, nothing has been produced by the SNP or the Scottish Government on these matters. And nothing has been said by the EU.

Instead a general mood of goodwill from Europe to Scotland has been refashioned by Nats as proof that joining the EU will be fast-tracked. “Keep the light on” is the request, as if Scotland only has to knock and the door opens.

My feeling is that Scottish independence must happen in a few years or the moment will close. Bigger issues such as fairness and climate change will prevail, while the reality of the SNP’s conservative and incompetent style sinks in. Five years, that’s all they’ve got.

The SNP frequently say: “Independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.” It is deceitful, suggesting a smooth path to preservation of what we have. An honest slogan would be: “Indy might lead to rejoining the EU, but on terms unknown, and quite unlike the old membership.”

The SNP is convinced rejoining the EU is the pledge that explains its boost in the polls and which will win Indyref2. The former is undoubtedly true, the latter far more contentious.

I have wrestled with these details for five years and my brain hurts a lot. Despite being a pro-European nationalist, I think the pledge will unravel in any campaign. It is, in fact, an obstacle to an honest independence.

Scotland has the right to determine her own destiny. Independence is a legitimate option. With serious work done, and fingers crossed, you might even claim a link between independence and a “better” society.

But with no work done, no recognition of the problems, it is baseless to suggest that Scotland could quit the UK and join the EU without involving years of negotiations, accepting terms currently anathema to Scottish voters and extending uncertainty for years to come.

It is delusional to think Scotland will be in control of its EU membership terms, which will in effect become a replay of Brexit, but in reverse. Let’s see what happens – we’ve got five years left to cry in.

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