Scottish independence argument 'more complicated' than in 2014, says former SNP minister

Posted On: 
10th January 2017

The SNP faces “severe challenges” to convince Scots of the economic case for independence, according to the former Holyrood justice secretary.

Kenny MacAskill served as Justice Secretary until Nicola Sturgeon took over as first minister in 2014.
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Kenny MacAskill said the question over what currency an independent Scotland would use “hangs like a dark cloud”, while the lower price of North Sea oil means economic confidence needs to be regained.

The former SNP MSP was a key figure in the government which campaigned for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum, having served as justice secretary throughout Alex Salmond’s tenure as first minister.

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In an article for the i newspaper today, he wrote: “All the evidence is that it was those key economic questions that cost the Yes campaign victory and yet they remain. Turning them around is essential to winning over doubters.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that a fresh independence referendum could be tabled if the UK leaves the European single market, although she recently ruled out a vote in 2017.

Mr MacAskill said that another vote was likely to prove more difficult for the pro-independence side to win. 

"The circumstances for a vote are arguably both less favourable and more complicated than when the first referendum was held in 2014," he cautioned. 

He also said the framing of the debate as a chance to keep Scotland in the EU could fragment the Yes movement, given many of the “most intense” supporters of independence backed a Leave vote.

“Disadvantaged areas in Scotland were similar in many ways to those down south, where their ills were blamed on immigration and the EU,” he added.

“Whilst many of them may remain committed to independence, if the referendum is predicated on rejoining the EU that may fade.

“For the future No side, control over more areas such as fishing and even aspects of immigration are carrots to be dangled.

“And the stick to beat them with is a return to uncontrolled immigration and control by Brussels.

“Those opposing independence in the EU will know which political buttons to press.”

Mr MacAskill also said the change in circumstances following Brexit could hamper any new campaign, citing the Irish border as a problem that could be replicated in Great Britain.

He wrote: “Previously it could be argued that both Scotland and the rest of the UK would be in the EU and there wouldn’t be customs posts any more than when crossing between France and Belgium. That no longer applies.”

“Even the absence of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is threatened.

“A new one seems unlikely, as not just the peace process but the economy of Ulster would be threatened with so much trade passing across the North Channel through Scotland.

“But it’s a concern for political strategists as well as a worry for ordinary people.”

The former MSP also warned that the Scottish government could further difficulties obtaining the necessary consent from Westminster to make a second referendum legally binding.