Tom Devine: Case for Scottish independence weakened by Brexit

Tom Devine, regarded as Scotland's greatest historian. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tom Devine, regarded as Scotland's greatest historian. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The case for Scottish independence has been substantially weakened by the Brexit vote, according to the nation’s leading historian.

Sir Tom Devine said the omens for Nicola Sturgeon were now “really pretty bad” compared to the run-up to the 2014 poll.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, he said the First Minister faced “awesome” challenges over when to call another referendum because of the “extremely dangerous” situation caused by the EU vote, including the prospect of a “hard border” between Scotland and England.

Sir Tom, who expressed support for independence in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, suggested the Scottish Government had just five years to call another referendum. But he said the SNP needed to do “serious and rigorous” work on the economic case for independence to persuade more people to switch to a “yes” vote.

He told a sell-out festival audience: “I would certainly have wanted to go for devo max, which obviously wasn’t on the ballot paper.

“It was essential, in my view, to keep up the pressure on the UK Government to provide a degree of maximum devolution. I crossed the rubicon and I still favour the independence option as the final option.

“But if you consider the situation at the moment it is extremely dangerous. I don’t think yet that Nicola Sturgeon has been tested.

“The big tests are still ahead and they are awesome, particularly the timing, if there is going to be one, of any new referendum on independence.

“At the moment, the auguries are really pretty bad. I would say they are worse than in 2014, not least because of the instability.

“You could argue that the recent Brexit decision could be a symbolic trigger for another vote. But in one sense it adds to the European instability.

“Of course, we now know from what went on in terms of voting in 2014 that many people were concerned with risks. Instability produces risk.

“At the same time there has been no intellectual response to the weaknesses in the SNP economic programmes, not simply in relation to the currency, but elsewhere.

“I reckon the current government has, before depreciation of its support, probably at most another five years to go, maybe six or seven at the outset. At the end of that period then they will have to make a decision one way or another. But the auguries are less appealing now than they were.”

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