Nicola Sturgeon’s European dilemma

Having called for a second independence referendum following “a material change in circumstances” as a result of the Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon must now clarify her vision for an independent Scotland.

Crucially, that involves explaining what kind of relationship an independent Scotland would seek to have with the EU.

Sturgeon’s stated position – that Scotland would seek to retain EU membership – looks increasingly untenable. The EU’s position is that Britain is leaving the EU as a whole. Therefore, an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership upon breaking with the UK. But there is no guarantee that such an application would be successful. Spain’s foreign minister has already said that an independent Scotland would go to the back of the queue for EU membership. That’s behind countries like Turkey and Albania, whose prospects of joining are themselves very low.

As if this were not enough, a new Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows Scottish Euroscepticism is at an all-time high. It suggests that Sturgeon should lay less emphasis on Scotland re-joining the EU if she wants to win over Eurosceptic Scots.

Of course, Sturgeon could abandon her aim for Scotland to be an EU member. But then she would deprive herself of the means of converting Scottish remainers who voted “no” to Scottish Independence in 2014 to her cause. That is a significant chunk of the Scottish electorate. Indeed, it is difficult to see how Sturgeon could win a second Independence referendum without the support of at least some of those voters.

As the SNP grapples with how to appeal to Brexit-supporting Scots who voted “Yes” to Scottish Independence and EU-supporting Scots who voted “No”, Unionists will hope that this dilemma will be as intractable as it seems.