Indyref 2: Is David Mundell right to say Scotland must leave EU?

Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: PA
Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: PA
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David Mundell has a very clear message – Pack your bags, Scotland, because you’re leaving the European Union.

The Tory Scottish Secretary is due to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s committee on Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations tomorrow.

Brexit minister Mike Russell. Picture: Craig Borland

Brexit minister Mike Russell. Picture: Craig Borland

But it appears that there is no need for Scots concerned about the impact of Brexit on our constitutional future to tune in to Parliament TV.

Mundell, the only Tory MP north of the border, has got in ahead of his evidence tomorrow to reveal exactly what he will say to MSPs, especially those minded to use Europe as a means to lever more support for independence.

He is due to say “I think it is important to be clear that Scotland will not be in the EU at the end of this process.

“There is no set of circumstances in which Scotland could remain a member of the EU after the rest of the UK has left.”

But others think Scotland can get a bespoke deal, and that it is foolish of the UK Government to be that blunt with the Scottish Parliament.

Laying down the law

Tories, both in Scotland and in Theresa May’s government, now that there is always an inherent strategic risk in being seen to dictate to Scottish voters

Any Conservative who is sent to Holyrood to report the latest dispatch from Westminster risks being hounded by politician and press alike for their attitude.

But Mundell reasons that the Scottish people deserve the truth, no matter how harsh that reality may appear to the majority of voters who backed a remain vote in last year’s Brexit referendum.

Warnings over the length of time it takes after applying to become a member of the European Union were effective in the first independence referendum campaign.

The Westminster Government has been cheered by the approach of the European Commission in the UK, that has suggested that Scotland will need to abide by the process set out by the Tory-majority Government.

Mundell’s case is also enhanced by the ruling of the Supreme Court that despite Nicola Sturgeon’s objections, Holyrood doesn’t need to approve of the final Brexit deal, unlike the House of Commons.

A special deal?

Scotland’s SNP-led Government, however, sees things differently.

Nicola Sturgeon has even gone as far as to appoint a cabinet-level Minister to deal with how to navigate the choppy waters of Brexit from within the UK.

Michael Russell is the man who has been given the wordy job title of ‘Minister for UK negotiations on Scotland’s place in Europe.’

Russell, on hearing Mundell’s comments, furiously contended that the Scottish Government had put forward a coherent plan to keep Scotland within the EU single market even as the UK departs it.

Russell too raised alarm about the prospect of “A right-wing Tory Government we didn’t vote for intent on taking us off a hard Brexit cliff edge which would be catastrophic for jobs and livelihoods.”

Russell’s team also seized on a report that suggested that EU leaders were amenable to the proposals of the Scottish Government.

A footnote on one such committee of the European Parliament noted it was important to consider that Scots had voted to stay in the EU by a huge margin.

But even the most optimistic of pro-remain Scots know that these proposals would need to be at least tacitly endorsed by Theresa May’s government, something Mundell has made clear is not likely to happen any time soon.

The Nuclear Option

Of course, the previous two scenarios both involve Scotland seeking to negotiate, or secure a better deal, while still a part of the UK.

But as the Tories continue to pursue a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that another referendum on independence is still very much on the table.

Sturgeon has said that the ‘material change in circumstances’ that Brexit has brought about, is likely to trigger than much-debated second vote.

While some Tories say that Westminster should block a second referendum from taking place before the UK leaves the EU, that has potential to massively backfire.

A Tory Government with just one MP blocking a binding referendum could be just the ammo that Sturgeon needs to undertake an ‘advisory’ referendum and dare Westminster to defy the result.

In the event that referendum takes place relatively quickly, and that it is a Yes vote, it would be increasingly hard to deny Scotland a special deal, no matter how strong David Mundell’s warning is.