Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cut a relaxed figure as she worked on a final draft of the Section 30 letter to request a second independence referendum from the comfort of Bute House. Her relaxed state perhaps came from the knowledge that it is now Theresa May who finds herself in a difficult position.
As Brexit negotiations begin, the independence issue is one that May would much rather be without. The Prime Minister would prefer to head into negotiations presenting a United Kingdom that is both strong and united, ready to face Brexit together.
The SNP’s desire for another referendum, of course, undermines that. It serves as a drastic reminder that whatever rhetoric the UK government may offer, the UK is not only divided, but that the issue of Brexit is only likely to divide it further.
Brexit, after all, is the central reason as to why the SNP have demanded another referendum. And while it may be easy enough for May and other unionist parties to deny permission on the grounds that it is too soon after the last one and that it is not beneficial for another referendum to be ongoing during the Brexit process, it will not make the issue go away.
Instead, Sturgeon finds herself in an enviable position. She is aware her main wish of a referendum is unlikely to be granted, and yet it is this which arguably strengthens her position. On a surface level, if the SNP can portray the denial of a second vote as a subversion of the Scottish Parliament, they will be hoping to see a surge in support as a result.
Even without this, however, the continued whisperings of a second vote from Scotland will serve as a contradiction to May’s attempted strong and united front against the EU.
How the EU would deal with a hypothetically independent Scotland remains uncertain, yet they will be aware that as negotiations progress, they have a somewhat strong ally in the Scottish Government, who remain committed to the EU after 62% of Scotland voted Remain.
The EU will be aware that if the UK play hardball over any potential deal and look set to refuse it, then there is a chance of a backlash from the pro-EU Scotland.
Such problems for the UK Government are not just centred on Scotland, either. Already difficulties have started to flare up regarding the status of Gibraltar. The territory was ceded to Britain back in 1713 and any appeals in recent years from Spain have tended to fall on deaf ears, and yet it may be the simple threat of potential roadblocks which again weaken the position of the UK Government during negotiations.
After all, Gibraltar’s 96% Remain vote demonstrated that, as an actual part of mainland Europe, they had no desire to leave the EU. And again, while the status of Gibraltar itself may not even remotely be under threat, it is another important hand the EU can play. Again the UK will find themselves heading into Brexit in spite of an area of the country being ardently opposed to it.
That is not to say that the European Union itself will not face problems, of course. The remaining member nations agreeing upon a deal with Britain may present certain difficulties and they may themselves be divided in certain respects, yet for the most part they will be able to argue that it is business continuing as usual, and that the secession of Britain is a body blow they can recover from.
The results of upcoming elections in France and Germany this year may be a key factor in determining how strong the EU appears as a united front, yet if Emmanuel Macron is successful in France and either of the two frontrunners win in Germany, the latter of which is close to a guaranteed certainty, then the EU will continue with most of its largest powers remaining strongly in favour of the union.
The UK, however, will struggle to portray themselves as a strong and united force as they head into a post-Brexit Britain that certain parts of the country are ardently against. And however unlikely a second referendum on Scottish independence actually is, its continued presence will be troubling for Theresa May, whether it happens or not.
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