It is easy to become disillusioned, confused and even fanciful when trying to envision Scotland’s financial security in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. With a leap of imagination it is possible to conceive that there is now a higher probability of seeing the Loch Ness monster than there is of seeing any constructive resolution to the decisive vote emerging on the horizon. At first glance this assertion sounds like a fictitious rumination. Yet analysing the different stories that have surfaced about where Brexit leaves Scotland one quickly finds that they are rife with mystery. This blog argues that the complex discursive performances enacted since 23 June 2016 take on a particularly elusive quest when it comes to what financial security means for Scotland going forward. Akin to the Loch Ness monster, different actors have reported sightings. These vary from plots of the SNP canvassing for a second independence referendum to audacious acclaims of Scotland fighting to retain their membership in the European Union (EU). Let’s take a closer look at the ability of Scotland to synchronise these competing agendas.
With Scotland voting 62-38% to remain in the EU, the resurrection of independence as a political agenda certainly appears to have taken on a new lease of life with calls for ‘indyref2’. Speaking on 27 June 2016, First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, emphasised, “a second independence referendum is clearly an option that requires to be on the table and is very much on the table.” Stepping up efforts to ensure that Scotland’s interests are defended amidst post-Brexit negotiations the SNP party leader characterised Theresa May’s assurance that “Brexit means Brexit” as “a soundbite that masks a lack of any clear sense of direction”. At the same time, Sturgeon has indicated a willingness to participate in ‘engaged talks’ with the new elected UK Prime Minister. An easy explanation behind this discursive oscillation is that Scotland will need permission from Westminster to hold another referendum. What is also plain is that there must be public confidence in the prospect of an independent Scotland being financially secure, something that the latest YouGov polls figures have called into question. Elsewhere opponents to ‘indyref2’ are highlighting that the economic goals for an independent Scotland that appeared possible in 2014 (with oil at $100/barrel) have vanished (with oil hovering just below $50/barrel). Consequently, the projected political economy for an independent Scotland today forecasts either tax rises in order to maintain current public services or a reduction in the provision of those services. Faced with this reality Sturgeon has stopped short of demanding another independence referendum, in part because it is not clear that financial security lays at the end of that path.