Indyref2: does the Scottish government want EU membership?

Scotland and EU flags Image copyright AFP
Image caption Would an independent Scotland seek full membership of the EU?

Brexit takes Britain and thus Scotland out of the European Union. So a Scottish independence referendum is designed to take Scotland straight back into the EU? Right?

Up, as I noted here on Monday, to a point.

It is understandably tricky to assign clarity to any element of the current constitutional mélange. But, inevitably, the mist steadily clears.

Let us have a go at dispelling a cloud or two. Point one, the Scottish Parliament will vote next Wednesday in support of a Section 30 transfer of powers from Westminster to enable a referendum to be, in the phrase, "made in Scotland".

The Greens will shrug aside suggestions from rivals that they set out different criteria from the SNP re indyref2. They favour independence - and they favour a further referendum as the potential route for achieving that.

So they will vote with the SNP on Wednesday, after two days of debate (the extended time having been secured by the Liberal Democrats).

That will not, of itself, alter the position of the UK government. But it may subtly alter the tone of the debate. It will be just a little more difficult for opponents to trash the notion of a further plebiscite. By no means impossible - just a mite more difficult, once it has Holyrood sanction.

Yes, no, maybe?

Next week also we expect the UK government to set out their position on Section 30. They could say No. They could say Yes. Most expect them to say maybe - with caveats on the timing of the ballot.

It is feasible that the UKG says indyref2 can only take place when Brexit is fully completed. That could be Spring 2019 - within the window set out by the first minister. Or it could be considerably later. Or the UKG might decline to specify a date at this point, arguing that they cannot offer certainty because the Brexit negotiations have yet to start.

Scottish ministers say the final decision on this and other details of the referendum should be determined by Holyrood. UK ministers will want to retain control. Stand by for negotiations.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Negotiations between Downing Street and Bute House are likely over the timing of any referendum

Then we come to the objective. Scotland in the EU? Scotland in the single market? Firstly, it seems pretty clear - within the miasma - that one thing has changed.

Scottish ministers will not talk about automatic entry for Scotland to the EU. The notion of Scotland assuming or inheriting the UK's membership will be sidelined.

Indeed, when questioned by me regarding this issue on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon talked of discussions between Scotland and the EU. She did not talk of automatic membership.

Await clarity

You will hear views to the effect that these discussions would be protracted and difficult. In contrast to this, Ms Sturgeon argues that Scotland would find a welcome in Brussels and across the EU - and that the talks would be all the easier if they were held in close proximity to the Brexit timetable.

But might Scotland initially draw back from full EU membership? I think it likely - if, of course, the referendum happens, if the issue arises.

Again, on Monday, in response to the same question, the first minister said that circumstances re the EU had changed, that it would be important to await further clarity, that the final position would be determined prior to the referendum itself. She stressed, however, that EU membership was and remains SNP and thus Scottish government policy.

Image copyright First Minister's office
Image caption Will post-independence arrangements be based on the Scottish government's Brexit proposals?

However, say Scotland has been taken out of the EU - and, crucially, the single market - as part of UK Brexit. Remember that Ms Sturgeon's offered compromise involved Scotland retaining distinctive single market membership, within the ambit of the departing UK.

One can envisage circumstances in which the initial objective is to regain single market membership for Scotland - via Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area, as set out in the SG paper in December.

That could be presented as being the urgent imperative, given the proclaimed threat to Scottish trade.

At the same time, emphasising the single market - with full membership over the horizon - could perhaps help win support for independence in the first place.

It would, arguably, placate those who favour independence but are leery about the EU. They could be told that full membership would only be settled via a further referendum, at a later date. Brussels postponed.

Again arguably, the first minister would be able to say that indyref2 was just that: a ballot on independence per se. Not a choice between the UK and the EU. To say that the issue of full EU membership would arise later.

Any clearer? Well, I tried.

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