#indyref2 is on the horizon

Today’s announcement from Theresa May all but confirmed a second independence referendum will be held. The message may have been missed amid the furore over ‘self-determination’ and ‘trying to put Scotland in its box’, but it was there nonetheless.

The statement was not just “no second referendum”; the Prime Minister blatantly suffixed it with a “…yet”. She stated now was “not the right time” for one, hinting therefore that the “right time” was still on the horizon. And fair play to the UK Government; I wouldn’t want to be battling Brussels over Brexit and soliciting Scotland at the same time either.

More evidence — if it were needed — came from the press conference held by David Mundell and Ruth Davidson shortly after May’s announcement. Mundell was clear that the response was specifically to Sturgeon’s statement on Monday setting out a rough timescale for the next constitutional vote. He said it would not happen before Brexit concluded. Davidson added it was important for Scotland to see what the options were — presumably meaning a choice between post-Brexit Britain and independence, rather than halfway-out-the-EU-door and independence.

So the question immediately becomes: when? Assuming Article 50 is triggered at the end of this month (the rumour mill currently suggests the 27th), the UK will leave the EU at the end of March 2019. The earliest indyref possibility could therefore be April 2019 — but probably unlikely.

Even if a UK-EU deal is struck within the two years (no guarantee), it’s likely the UK Government will want changes to bed in. A year later is the General Election, meaning it’s probably unlikely to happen in the first half of 2020. The second half may present the best opportunity, assuming everything has been settled by then.

If the UK leaves to EU without a deal, or at least an interim deal, further delays are likely. Rely on the suggestion from UK ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, that it could take ten years to negotiate and we could be looking at as late as 2027.

Despite the rage this may cause among some Nationalists, this might not be a negative prospect for indy supporters. It would provide time for the electorate to recover from the spate of elections there’s been recently (a higher turnout will favour Yes). It may also be sufficient time to cause enough of a demographic shift in the campaign’s favour (polls consistently show the younger the voter, the more likely they are to support it).

In logistical terms, it would also allow arguments to be built over a greater period of time than we saw in the run-up to 2014 and allow the Scottish Government (if it’s still the SNP) to get its house in order to begin on the front foot, for example with economic arguments.

The SNP may wish to capitalise in the short-term though, rather than play the long game. It could well go ahead with an independence referendum even without the Section 30 order from the UK Government — the problem with that is that it would not be legally binding. It might even be boycotted by No campaigners (who no doubt would claim it was frivolous) and therefore results would be heavily skewed, potentially undermining any credibility if the party clung to it as proof that Scotland wants independence.

So my advice is this: accept what May had to say today and save your energy (whether fighting for Yes or for No) for the battle that remains on the horizon.

Photo credit: No 10 Flickr