Who’s Afraid of Nicola Sturgeon?
Theresa May’s worst nightmare has come true. On Monday, a day before her possible triggering of article 50, the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that she will have a second referendum on Scottish independence. Later, the same day, May changed her mind about article 50, saying that she would trigger it later, by the end of the month. What made May change the date? May is buying more time to placate the Scottish. But why? She is afraid that Sturgeon will go on with her proposal and possibly win a second referendum.
Daily Mail trolls
Sturgeon’s announcement has sparked a series of prejudiced commentary and an anti-Scottish backlash. But why? Why is Sturgeon’s anxieties about what Brexit might mean perceived so negatively? Would it be preferable to remain passive and compliant to a decision that will affect the next generation of British leaving within the UK and abroad? Or, is the fact that the rest of the UK is getting a possibly bad deal with Brexit, Scotland should do too.
In the absence of any useful argument, Nicola Sturgeon has been decorated with the worst possible adjectives and metaphors, with which I would not indulge my readers, because it’s a damaging rhetoric that seeks to obscure the relevancy of Sturgeon’s position and the lack of argument on May’s side. A language that dribbles of hatred is poisonous and offensive, to say the least, and shouldn’t let us forget that those who desire the collapse of systems and institutions, including that of the European Union, have no beliefs and no investments in real people. Perhaps Sturgeon’s valid position cannot be discredited, this is why the trolls resort to personal attacks.
It is also interesting to see that in 2015 a poll showed that Sturgeon was the most popular politician across Britain. The TNS poll for the Herald showed that Sturgeon had the highest net approval rating of +33. In every part of Britain, she toped the poll: she had a rating of +30 in north-east England, +38 in Wales and the West Country and +33 in Greater London. In a Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world, Sturgeon ranked second in the UK, behind the Queen. She is considered one of the most influential UK figures in 2016, in a list that includes world leaders, celebrities and entrepreneurs.
In Britain, her critics—again the Daily Mail—consider her “the most dangerous woman” because, as Fraser Nelson of the Spectator magazine said, “She is hugely dangerous to unionism, to anybody who wants the U.K. to stay together, for the simple reason that she is devastatingly good at what she does.”
Brexit and the desire of the EU’s collapse
As the co-founder of DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) and Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis has repeatedly said, it is one thing to talk extensively against “the very DNA of the European Union,” “criticise the way it was put together and the way it functions,” and another thing “to argue that it should be dismantled.”
In an interview, Varoufakis said: “So we have walked this path towards a particular union, however toxic it might be, and if we try to step back from it, we are going to fall off a cliff.” He also said that Britain outside the EU would be disastrous, unless Britain finds a way of replacing the 60% of its trade with the EU, with someone else. This it won’t be able to do.” He argued that even if the UK leaves the EU, “the labour standards, the environmental standards will in the end be dictated at the level of Europe.” It isn’t about tariffs, but about standards. And this means that these rules won’t be negotiated between the EU and the UK, but they will be written in Brussels. Britain will only have the choice of “take it or leave it.”
For Varoufakis, there isn’t an easy answer to Brexit and the EU’s undemocratic structure. But what is clear to him is that:
“You cannot step back from the globalised market and especially from the Europeanised market. So if you exit without having any capacity to participate in the democratisation of that market, then you will always be subject to a market that is run by technocrats and you will have even less degrees of freedom than you have now.”
The only way is perhaps to stay within the EU and “subvert the rules” instead of recoiling back into a nationalist nostalgia. Varoufakis’ advise seems to apply to Sturgeon’s political move, because she doesn’t want to recoil back to the illusion of May’s nation-state, but she has an internationalist vision that includes Scotland within the EU. Staying within the EU and being outside the Eurozone, Scotland has the freedom to make a difference.
May vs. Sturgeon
Sturgeon poses a problem. This isn’t just ruining Theresa May’s schedule for triggering article 50, but is also making her look bad. Sturgeon’s conviction and clarity of thought come from a place of ideas and belief in a cause. Whether we like it or not, she knows what she wants and has announced her plan to make this real. May lacks an ideological program. She knows that her boring repetition of her mantra “Brexit that works for everyone” isn’t fooling anyone any more. Within this context, Sturgeon is challenging May to give Scotland special access to the single market and new powers or…. a second referendum might take place, and this time, May knows things might turn out to be different than 2014, when the first independence referendum took place.
Can Sturgeon hold a referendum?
Sturgeon doesn’t have the legal authority to call for a referendum, but she will ask Holyrood to support her proposal at the beginning of next week. After that, the UK and Scottish governments will sign a second Edinburgh agreement—the agreement between the UK government and the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence which was signed on 15 October 2012 at St. Andrews House, Edinburgh.
Will Scottish economy survive on its own?
Sturgeon’s critics bring up the argument that Scotland’s economy isn’t strong enough to survive once it becomes independent. Oil reserves in Scotland are dying, even though the national institute of economic and social research (NIESR) figures show that the North Sea brings £20 billion to the Scottish economy. Scotland attracts two thirds of the North Sea oil profits and employment, too. Since 2014 oil prices have been dropping, despite a slight recovery the recent years. Scotland is, however, not solely dependent on oil, but has a varied economy with strong biotech, tourist and IT industries.
More importantly, an independent Scotland isn’t that smaller than other European countries. With a 5.295 million, Scotland has a higher population than Norway (5.084 million). According to a 2016 article, “Scotland’s GDP per head is exactly equal to the EU average.” The English might be concerned about Scotland’s future, but the Scots will be fine. As a commentator on the Guardian wrote, “If Scotland leaves for the EU, London financial institutions will probably move to Edinburgh, transforming it into a gigantic financial hub.” It’s a possibility.
Theresa May’s paradoxes
May is promising financial companies that the UK leaving the EU doesn’t mean economic bankruptcy: there will be fantastic deals to be made; it will be tremendous even without the single market. But when Scotland argues that they want to stay within the EU, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians argue that this will mean economic bankruptcy for Scotland if they abandon the union. The logic of these two positions is just unfounded. How can it be okay to leave one union, but damaging to leave another? On a more playful note, May’s Brexit and Sturgeon’s Independence referendum seem mad, if seen by different perspectives as here.
The argument about the Scottish independence referendum, as many commentators pointed out, should not pit Scotland against England, but the people against Westminster. The Scottish are fortunate to be in this position, and their frustration with a system that has traditionally left them out, can only be expressed in this referendum. And Northern Ireland is now calling for its own referendum. “Politics is not a game,” after all, but it’s a tool to serve the interests of the people.