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17 February 2017

Even Tony Blair thinks Scottish independence is credible now

The break-up of the UK is a convenient warning for both opponents of Brexit and nationalists alike. 

By Julia Rampen

One of the best-forgotten facts about Tony Blair is that he is as Scottish as Gordon Brown. He was born in Edinburgh and educated at the elite but iconic Fettes College (my friends from the nearby state school used to get their picture taken in front of its Hogwarts-like towers). 

Blair, like Brown, intervened ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, although in contrast to Brown’s vote-swinging barnstormer, he simply said it would “not be sensible, politically, economically or even emotionally”.  

But now, in his anti-Brexit speech, Blair struck a markedly different tone.  Warning that the Brexiteers were dividing the country, he declared:

“The possibility of the break-up of the UK – narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum – is now back on the table, but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case.”

Disgruntled Labourites have long complained the Scottish National Party has stolen New Labour’s economic policies while disguising any affiliation to Blairism. Today the SNP didn’t even bother doing that. “Tony Blair’s comments simply reflect the reality,” crowed Stephen Gethins, the Westminster Europe spokesman.  

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The SNP have another reason to be happy. The pro-independence newspaper The National reported on a leaked confidential report from the European Parliament’s committee on constitutional affairs, which suggests the EU should “be prepared” to deal with Scotland separately. 

Scottish independence increasingly is being presented as a relatively neat solution to a multi-cornered constitutional problem. But if an independent Scotland looks more credible than it did three years earlier, the irony is that the original economic arguments for independence look less so.

The foundation of the Scottish government’s promise was an economy built on better management of the North Sea oil – prices were then at a high – as well as corporate tax cuts. 

In an eerie coincidence, oil prices began to slide almost immediately after the referendum vote. Between 2015 and 2016, Scotland’s revenues from North Sea Oil collapsed nearly 100 per cent. Meanwhile, the idea of slashing corporation tax by a few percentage points may yet be dwarfed by Theresa May’s threat of turning Britain into a bargain basement if EU negotiators don’t play ball. 

Talking up independence at this moment is convenient for both opponents of Brexit like Blair and the SNP alike. It may be less so for the wallets of the Scottish people.