Scottish independence and Remain camps should beware this ‘unicorn’ – Joyce McMillan

The EU election in May and the 2021 Scottish Parliament election are no replacements for second referendums on Brexit and Scottish independence respectively, writes Joyce McMillan

Unrealistic claims about Brexit have been dubbed unicorns (Picture: Jon Savage)

Unicorns – or impossible dreams – have always been easy to spot on the pro-Brexit side of the current interminable debate on Britain’s future. In the last week or so, though, a very striking unicorn has also appeared on the other side of the question; in the form of a sudden wishful belief, among both opponents of Brexit, and supporters of Scottish independence in Europe, that the second referendums for which they have yearned for so long can somehow now be replaced by the looming UK elections to the European Parliament, and by the 2021 election to the Scottish Parliament.

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After the stress and strain of the past three years, I suppose this dream of resolution is understandable. Yet in the case of the European election scheduled for 23 May, the most likely outcome is that Nigel Farage will emerge as the leader of the largest and noisiest minority; while a slightly larger group of pro-European voters remains hopelessly divided across at least five parties, including an officially pro-Brexit Labour. Confusion will reign, in other words; and nothing will be resolved at all.

And as for Scotland – well, yes, a massive overall majority for the SNP and the Greens in the 2021 election would send a strong message that Scotland has finally had enough of the Union. After 14 years of SNP Government at Holyrood, though, it has to be said that such a decisive result seems unlikely; and it’s also questionable how healthy it is for a parliamentary election to be treated as a referendum on a single constitutional issue, when so many other vital policy matters are at stake.

Two years is a long time in politics, of course, particularly if the UK’s Brexit debacle continues to worsen. For now, though, I would say that any attempt to present a Scottish Parliament election as a referendum on independence would go down extremely badly with Scotland’s vital cohort of undecided voters; and seriously damage the electoral prospects of the SNP, whose best hope of persuading the undecided surely lies in a continuing demonstration of more rational and competent government than anything available at Westminster, across the whole range of policy.