Scottish independence: If UK didn't exist, we'd invent it '“ Pamela Nash

Unionists will take heart from new Survation poll, but Brexit still poses a threat, writes Pamela Nash, chief executive of the Scotland in Union campaign group.

Nicola Sturgeons strategy to use Brexit to break up the UK is backfiring, says Pamela Nash (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeons strategy to use Brexit to break up the UK is backfiring, says Pamela Nash (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As soon as the EU referendum result was announced, Nicola Sturgeon predictably used it to revive her campaign for Scotland to leave the UK.

Nationalists have not stopped campaigning since, using every twist and turn in the Brexit saga in a desperate attempt to boost support for the break-up of Britain.

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The SNP has no interest in getting a good Brexit deal or even stopping Brexit – it wants chaos in the hope that Remain voters will swing behind independence in the belief that Scotland could easily stay in the EU. It’s a cynical tactic that EU Remain voters must always remember: don’t let Nicola Sturgeon use your vote to break up the UK.

The new poll from Survation, published in The Scotsman today, shows that Ms Sturgeon’s strategy is backfiring.

If a contest was held tomorrow, 60 per cent of people in Scotland would vote to remain in the UK. In fact, 28 per cent of former Yes voters would now vote for Scotland to remain in the UK.

This matches up with evidence that we hear first-hand at campaign events throughout the country.

Contrary to SNP spin, there are many voters who backed the Yes campaign in 2014 who no longer support independence.

There are several reasons for their change of heart – not least the recent experience of the oil price crash, which would have exposed an independent Scotland to economic catastrophe and proved that Alex Salmond’s White Paper was a work of fiction.

But Brexit – whether you support it or not – has demonstrated the intense complexities of leaving a political union.

It has proved difficult – and it remains to be seen if impossible – to secure a divorce deal with the EU, which in historical terms is a relatively new organisation. Just imagine what it would be like disentangling us from a 300-year-old union in which we are considerably more entwined.

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Alex Salmond’s White Paper fancifully claimed a divorce deal could be in place within 18 months. The SNP can never again peddle that lie.

But more than anything, what we are hearing time and time again is that Brexit has brought home to voters just how precious being part of the UK is. The chaos of the Brexit negotiations highlights the stability and security we enjoy as part of the UK. Few voters want to be out of both the EU and the UK.

If in today’s world the UK did not exist, we would need to invent it.

So, it comes as little surprise that if a second independence referendum was called after we leave the EU, this poll shows that voters would still choose to remain in the UK – with or without a Brexit deal in place.

The wording in the poll was chosen deliberately. In 2014, we were offered a yes/no option and the no campaign won by around 400,000 votes. Ms Sturgeon insisted it was a “once-in-a-generation” referendum.

But she used the 2016 EU referendum to revive her campaign – a contest in which the Electoral Commission advised that voters should be offered a remain/leave option.

The independent experts came to the conclusion that a yes/no option question is not the best option as it cannot be considered neutral when reflecting only one outcome in the question.

Let’s be clear, there should not be a second independence referendum – it is not wanted and would damage Scotland – but if there was one, the precedent of using a remain/leave question with both options in the question has now clearly been set. The Yes campaign will have to become the Leave campaign.

But while the poll makes for encouraging reading, those of us who believe in the UK must not be complacent.

Just over a third of voters said Brexit makes them more likely to support Scotland leaving the UK. And while pro-UK parties have 58 per cent of support in Westminster voting intentions, it is still of concern that the SNP remains the largest single party.

In recent weeks, senior Nationalist figures have floated the idea that a majority of Scottish MPs at the next election would be a mandate for independence.

It’s reckless and dangerous talk, but it hasn’t been dismissed by the SNP leadership.

SNP strategists know they are failing to turn most Scots towards independence, so are exploring other ways to break up the UK. Their underhand tactics cannot go unchecked.

That’s why Scotland in Union will be campaigning hard in the weeks ahead to remind voters that whatever your views on Brexit, independence is not the answer.

A separate Scotland would not automatically be in the EU and would face a long and painful application process, with absolutely no guarantee of entry.

Like any club, there are rules which apply to new members.

EU member states are expected to have a budget deficit of no more than three per cent of GDP.

The latest official figures put Scotland’s deficit at a whopping 7.9 per cent – four times higher than the UK. The only way to get that down is by both hiking taxes and slashing spending on already-stretched public services such as schools and hospitals – meaning deeper, harmful austerity.

All member countries must also commit to eventual membership of the euro, making any suggestion of financial independence nonsense as monetary policy would be handed to Frankfurt.

Why harm our economy by leaving the UK – which is worth four times as much as our trade with the EU?

By remaining in the UK, families are better off by the equivalent of £7,500.

It simply makes no sense to walk away from our oldest friends, neighbours, trading partners and allies.

That’s why the majority of people in Scotland still want to remain in the United Kingdom.

Pamela Nash is chief executive of Scotland in Union