Brexit: Would a second EU vote increase the chances of IndyRef2?

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The 2016 vote on Brexit and the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence answered two different constitutional questions. But the political fallout from both results has a habit of tying the two issues together.

Take Liam Fox’s recent intervention on the possibility of a second vote on the UK’s EU membership. The secretary of state for international trade warned it would be impossible to argue that the SNP should not call a second referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK if campaigners to stay in the EU were given a chance to reverse the decision on Brexit.

Independence supporters show their support for a second referendum during a march through Glasgow in July. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Independence supporters show their support for a second referendum during a march through Glasgow in July. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Mr Fox, who was raised in East Kilbride, has opposed Scottish independence as consistently as he has promoted the UK leaving the European Union.

But the MP’s comments echo previous arguments made by both sides of Scotland’s constitutional divide. The idea of overturning one referendum result with another concerns some members of both the Conservatives and the SNP, albeit for different reasons.

READ MORE: Would an independent Scotland face a hard border with England?

“How can we tell Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP that they can’t have another independence referendum because they didn’t like the result?” Mr Fox said yesterday.

Ms Sturgeon has never ruled out calling an IndyRef2. The First Minister said in an interview on Sunday: “I’ll set out my views in the new year once we’ve got through this period of turmoil on Brexit.”

But does one referendum increase the chances of another?

A ‘foolish’ stance

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has branded Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to back a second European Union referendum as “very foolish”.

Mr Sillars, who supported Brexit, warned that Unionists in Scotland could use such a precedent to demand another independence referendum if there was eventually a Yes vote. “If you concede that the EU referendum is not definitive, you also have to concede that any future vote in support of Scottish independence would not be definitive,” he said in October.

That argument was backed by veteran SNP MSP Alex Neil, one of the few high-profile Nationalists to admit on the record he voted in favour of Brexit.

Putting pressure on Labour?

Those close to the First Minister disagree. Noel Dolan, who worked as an advisor to Nicola Sturgeon for almost a decade, has argued the SNP should back a referendum on the final Brexit deal, rather than an IndyRef2.

His thinking follows that by taking a pro-EU lead on a cross-party issue, Ms Sturgeon puts pressure on the EU-sceptic Labour leadership at Westminster.

Evidence of this was plain to see last week as the SNP repearedly called on Jeremy Corbyn to call a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s Government.

If demands for a second Brexit vote fall through, and the country is left facing the possibility of a chaotic No Deal, then the Nationalists will be in a position to claim they tried to prevent such a scenario.

What the parties say

For now, the official SNP line is the mess of Brexit makes the appeal of independence obvious.

A spokesman said: “The immediate priority is avoiding the disaster of a Hard Brexit or a no-deal outcome – neither of which can carry the support of the House of Commons – which is why we back a second EU referendum. “The First Minister has made clear she will provide an update on independence once there is more clarity around Brexit.”

The Scottish Conservatives claimed that the SNP would “always want more referendums until they get the result they want, however many attempts are required”.

A spokesman added: “Holding a second EU referendum would only embolden them even further.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon calls for confidence vote to clarify Labour stance