Complex questions need calm and clear scrutiny

Many Scots have reservations about a second independence referendum because they do not wish a re-run of the vehement and divisive language of the 2013 battle. Now it is looking ominously as if the fears of just such a ferocious re-run are upon us.

Ruth Davidson denounced the First Minister's announcement. Picture: John Devlin

Even with no date in sight for a second referendum battle, the angry rhetoric is already evident from ‘the off’. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of ‘deceit’ while Ms Sturgeon has charged that Scotland’s budget deficit has been created on “Westminster’s watch”.

Such exchanges could be dismissed as little more than typical, and at a time when passions are predictably running high: the First Minister was addressing a conference of the SNP party faithful and the Prime Minister is about to exercise Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which would kick start negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU.

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But it confirms the forebodings of many that the battle over “indyref2” would kick off at the same level of ferocity as the first campaign ended. Of course it is true that the decision as to whether Scotland should or should not be an independent country arouses emotions of identity and belonging. But it is natural that questions will be raised as to the nature of an independent Scotland’s financial and trading arrangements with the outside world.

These are by nature searching and complex issues. But judging by the exchanges thus far, this is not an atmosphere conducive to careful scrutiny of the imponderables that would need to be resolved for Scots to cast an informed and reasoned vote. These range from the nature of the relationship a future independent Scotland would have with the European Union – full membership, ‘apprentice’ membership with the terms and conditions made clear; membership of the European Free Trade Area; the potential regulatory barriers to trade with the EU and the UK, and, of course, which currency an independent Scotland would adopt. Similarly, what would an independent Scotland need to do to qualify for membership of the European single currency and what would be the nature and length of the transition arrangements?

These questions are all the more pressing given that the Spanish foreign minister has said Scotland might not get back into Europe. Ms Sturgeon is now saying that she might not pursue this as her first course option after all, while her other option – to join EFTA - is clouded by a statement from the foreign minister of Iceland that this may not be on the cards either.

For the moment the SNP’s position appears to be to keep the pound as a “starting point” while a Growth Commission headed by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson will set out alternatives when it reports later in the year.

That is a reasonable proposition. It would surely be best for passions to cool on both sides until there is a much clearer idea of the proposition that the SNP wishes to put to voters. Once that is agreed, the argument over timing would have more meaning.