Scottish Parliament flags

Who has the Aces in Brexit Poker Game?

Published: 8 August 2016
The cards are still being dealt in the diplomatic poker game that is the Brexit negotiations but, asks Malcolm Harvey, how strong is the SNP's hand?
 
Just days after the UK voted to leave the European Union, the SNP MEP Alyn Smith told the European Parliament: “I want my country to be internationalist, cooperative, ecological, fair, European.” In pleading with colleagues to respect Scotland’s vote to remain, he was afforded a standing ovation. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the vote had stated categorically that removing Scotland from the EU against its clearly stated will would be “democratically unacceptable” and that everything was “on the table”, including a second independence referendum. Independence, it seemed, was intricately linked to the EU referendum outcome.
 
Subsequently, in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon was granted the authority to negotiate with EU representatives on behalf of the Parliament. Significantly, it has, for the first time, declared an intention to pursue a decidedly different foreign policy from Westminster.
 
The SNP has had something of a rollercoaster of a relationship with the EU: favourable in the 1950s as a means of ensuring markets for Scottish exports; against it in the 1960s until the early 1980s, fearing power moving even further away from Edinburgh; positive again in the early 1990s, arguments for “Independence in Europe” coinciding with the EU’s advancement of a “Europe of the Regions”; and tepid support since devolution. But as the 2014 independence referendum approached, EU membership took on an important role in the SNP’s strategy.
 
On the practical side, an independent Scotland within the EU would continue to access the benefits of EU membership it held at present through the UK, with the addition of a more direct voice in EU decision-making, increased representation in the European Parliament and a recognised role as a small, independent state within the European project. On the strategic side, the proposed independent membership of the EU allowed the SNP to differentiate Scotland more distinctly from Eurosceptic England and to engage in traditional statecraft activities in Brussels.
 
Subsequently, in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon was granted the authority to negotiate with EU representatives on behalf of the Parliament. Significantly, it has, for the first time, declared an intention to pursue a decidedly different foreign policy from Westminster.
 
The SNP has had something of a rollercoaster of a relationship with the EU: favourable in the 1950s as a means of ensuring markets for Scottish exports; against it in the 1960s until the early 1980s, fearing power moving even further away from Edinburgh; positive again in the early 1990s, arguments for “Independence in Europe” coinciding with the EU’s advancement of a “Europe of the Regions”; and tepid support since devolution. But as the 2014 independence referendum approached, EU membership took on an important role in the SNP’s strategy.
 
On the practical side, an independent Scotland within the EU would continue to access the benefits of EU membership it held at present through the UK, with the addition of a more direct voice in EU decision-making, increased representation in the European Parliament and a recognised role as a small, independent state within the European project. On the strategic side, the proposed independent membership of the EU allowed the SNP to differentiate Scotland more distinctly from Eurosceptic England and to engage in traditional statecraft activities in Brussels.
 
The SNP’s post-Brexit strategy is, like the new UK Government’s, still in its infancy. Much of it will be shaped by outside events: the actions of the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and (marvellously titled) Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis; the triggering of Article 50 and the timeframe for negotiations; and how the First Minister’s more informal discussions progress in Brussels. As with much of UK politics at the moment, the shifting sands of the constitutional debate, internally and externally, make building a long-term strategy nearly impossible. It is far better in the short-term to observe, consider and react than to go all-in on a pair of eights.
 
But, then again, even pocket aces can lose when all the cards are dealt.
 

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