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Viewpoint / ‘Wait and see what type of Brexit we get’

Geoffrey Hay.

With Nicola Sturgeon seeking authority to stage a second Scottish independence referendum within two years and Theresa May steadfastly refusing to countenance such an idea, where does the constitutional impasse leave Shetland? Local chiropractor Geoffrey Hay, who takes an active interest in the political scene, offers his thoughts.

After the very surprising Brexit vote last year, yet another constitutional conundrum is to be foisted upon us with the SNP government demanding ‘indyref2’ in 2018 or 2019. Alex Salmond was obviously referring to hamsters when he said the 2014 referendum was a once in a lifetime opportunity…

So why are we here? Apparently because Scotland is being taken out the EU against its will and Westminster won’t cave into Holyrood’s demands for some kind of special status for Scotland during Brexit negotiations with the EU. However the negotiations have barely started and are due to take years; in fact many predict that no deal will have taken place by the time the two-year exit timeframe has expired!

This has to be the worst case scenario. But you get the feeling the SNP will demand from Westminster what it knows it can’t deliver, thus fuelling further grievance which, let’s face it, is the driving force behind the independence movement. It certainly isn’t their mediocre record in government in Holyrood, which is maybe just as well for them. From a Shetland perspective, the increasing trend of centralisation is ominous.

What’s at stake for the Shetlander then? Shetland voted convincingly to remain part of the UK, with a 64 per cent No vote in 2014 and slightly less so to remain part of the EU (56 per cent) last year. This latter vote was significantly reduced from the Scottish average, no doubt by the fishing community who are keen to remove the shackles of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). So something’s got to give, we’ll have to leave one or the other – or even both if indyref2 goes the way of Yes. Scotland will be leaving the EU as well, despite what some nationalists claim, regardless of the indyref2 result.

So much has been spoken about “sovereignty” and “taking back control”, whether from Westminster or Brussels. Those of strong opinion are convinced that either location is the source of all our woes and all will soon be remedied. So that’s the choice we’re facing – Holyrood/Westminster or Holyrood/Brussels.

Well, once the UK leaves the EU, Shetland’s fishing industry would no doubt benefit from leaving the CFP – just ask them! We’d be on level terms with our North Atlantic neighbours Faroe, Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Dream ticket. But (and it’s a rather big but) apparently Westminster will sell out the fishing industry once more during negotiations with Brussels, cry the proponents of independence.

Hang on a minute though; apparently an independent Scotland would rejoin the EU (and thus the CFP) at the earliest opportunity! So no better off there, but at least there’s a chance with Brexit, right? There is also hugely different opinion on whether Scotland benefits financially from being in the UK, or has it financed the south of England? Again the internet is awash with opinions and figures claiming one or the other.

For me this is the problem – information, or to be more accurate, misinformation. There is so much of it flying around that it’s hard for those without cast iron views already to ascertain what is “fact” and what is propaganda or “fake news”. Social media is ablaze already with posts from acolytes of either camp telling us how it is. Yes campaigners are telling us how good independence will be: Trident will be kicked out, no more austerity, our pensions will be safe, massive social housing building programmes, etc, etc.

But as I understand it independence will lead to new elections with new parties and no one will be carrying out any white paper promises as an (undoubtedly difficult) divorce settlement will have to occur first. Similarly the Brexit battle bus claims of increased NHS spending seemed to be just a figure scribbled on the bag of a fag packet! And that seems to be as far as things went for the Leave campaign’s exit strategy…

So it’s all just bluster to win votes and we’re having to brace ourselves for another indyref campaign. The polls suggest a majority of Scots don’t have the stomach for it, but the Holyrood government are determined to force the issue, despite Theresa May’s protestations. It’s just a case of when, not if.

For me, we should really wait and see what type of Brexit we are going to get. Will we be part of the single market? Will the fishermen be sold out again? What trade agreements will be made with the rest of the world? Headache-inducing stuff. I think we need those answers to see where Shetlanders will be best off, or should we just ask Norway to take us back? Referendum anyone!?

Geoffrey Hay

  • On Wednesday Shetland News publishes a piece by SNP Shetland member Iain Malcolmson on why the party has a “rock-solid mandate” to stage a second independence referendum.