Author: Jonathan Gregson
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish government has published a draft bill on a second independence referendum in reaction to the June vote of the full United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon says a rerun of the country’s 2014 “once-in-a-generation” referendum on whether to break from the UK is not definite, but Scotland should be ready to hold a vote before the UK exits the EU, if necessary to protect Scottish interests. More than 60% of Scottish votes were for remaining in the EU; still, recent polls suggest there is little appetite for a second independence referendum.

Sturgeon had visited Brussels hoping to open doors for Scotland to forge a separate relationship. But economist John Kay, part of the Standing Council on Europe, an international panel of experts formed in the wake of the Brexit vote to advise on securing Scotland’s future relationship with the EU, says it will be difficult to get Scotland special treatment.

“The idea that Scotland can negotiate a separate deal while remaining within the UK is implausible,” he comments. “Neither the UK government nor the EU are likely to be sympathetic.”

Drew Scott, professor of European Union Studies at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the new Standing Council, notes that Sturgeon has said that if Brexit is necessary, then the “least bad” outcome for Scotland and the UK economy as a whole is continued membership in the EU single market.He says alternative deals for Scotland’s relationship with Europe even if it remains part of the UK are being examined, and although these may be complex, he notes that “the EU has proven in the past to be extremely creative when the need arises.”

However, Kay thinks that “any deal in which the United Kingdom can remain a member of the European Economic Area is unlikely to be acceptable either to hard-line Brexiters or to all member states.”

Elsewhere, investment manager Gina Miller and hairdresser Deir Dos Santos, who holds both UK and European nationality, mounted a legal challenge to Brexit in London’s High Court, where 23 top lawyers argued over the legality of triggering Article 50 (exit process) without approval of Parliament. The “Hard Brexit” wing of the government argues that following the referendum there is no need for a vote by Parliament (which the ‘exit’ side would almost certainly lose, thereby triggering a constitutional deadlock and probably a general election), relying instead on executive powers of the royal prerogative—last used in the 17th century—to push ahead with Brexit.

The lead claimants and their lawyers, who contend this political bypass would undermine the sovereignty of Parliament, have received death threats and online abuse, so the court has decided to allow other claimants anonymity. The three senior judges hearing the case have promised a speedy judgment. Whatever the outcome, it will be almost certainly be appealed directly to the UK’s Supreme Court, leapfrogging the usual stages so that a final judgment can be obtained before the declared March deadline for activating Article 50.   

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