Martin Flanagan: Nicola Sturgeon has few surprises for IoD

Nicola Sturgeon delivers her speech at the IoD annual convention in London. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon delivers her speech at the IoD annual convention in London. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that another possible referendum on Scottish independence must remain on the table in the post-Brexit vote climate of economic uncertainty will have come as little surprise to her audience at the Institute of Directors (IoD) yesterday.

The ruling SNP had been making similar noises even before the Brexit vote that it no longer considered the 2014 Scottish independence referendum the once-in-a-generation event that Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond had once billed it as Labour’s blow-up north of the Border changed the game.

The difference now, as Sturgeon indicated to IoD members, is that there is more credibility for such an argument as the UK’s unexpected Brexit vote, while Scotland voted pretty overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, is a tangible disconnect.

READ MORE: Sturgeon says second independence vote still on the table post-Brexit

Scotland very largely wants into the single European trading bloc; the UK wants out to try and reclaim control of its borders against freedom of movement, the latter an EU article of faith.

As the First Minister said, in the last indyref the Better Together camp’s main argument was that there was more economic certainty for Scotland in remaining in the UK due to the latter’s broad economic shoulders than in striking out alone on a wing and North Sea oil.

Post-Brexit, who can say if Britain has a clear skies economic future amid a potential lengthy and messy EU exit?

Even so, it is not that clearcut. A strong picture card for the Scottish independence campaign in 2014 was the financial strength from its share of North Sea reserves.

With the chronic downturn in the oil price in the past two years, that argument also has less “resonance”, to use Sturgeon’s phrase in another context.

And business? Organisations like the IoD, CBI, British Chambers of Commerce etc want as much access to the single market post-Brexit as they can get, and as little restriction on EU freedom of movement as possible in order not to clip their wings in terms of hiring.

However, any common cause between business and Holyrood may be ambivalent as they both generally agree on the broad European picture, but diverge pretty markedly in terms of any support for a new Scottish referendum.

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