LONDON — Nicola Sturgeon faces an uphill battle to persuade Scotland to vote for independence from the United Kingdom, according to a lead economist at Oxford Economics.
The Scottish First Minister announced earlier this week that she wants the UK government to allow Scotland to hold another referendum on independence at some between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
Prime Minister Theresa May shot down this timetable, saying it’s “not the right time” for another referendum with Brexit talks on fast approaching, but did not rule out a future Scottish independence referendum altogether.
In London-based think tank Oxford Economics’ latest note, financial analyst Andrew Goodwin points out two major impediments in the way of the Scottish National Party’s mission to deliver an independent Scotland in the future.
These are as follows:
- Independence lacks popular support and there are few signs of this changing.
- The economic arguments against independence remain very strong and won’t get weaker.
On the first point, Goodwin cites YouGov polling on the issue of Scottish independence dating back to mid-2013, over a year before the 2014 independence referendum and years before the June referendum on EU membership.
As the below graph shows, YouGov found that pro-independence sentiment hit a high-point in the months following the 2014 referendum but has steadily declined ever since. Take a look.
Goodwin’s second point is that the case for Scottish independence lacks a strong economic argument, with the health of the Scottish economy being dependent on Britain’s wider economy as a whole. He writes (emphasis ours):
“The economics of independence was widely thought to be a key factor behind the ‘No’vote in 2014 and it is likely that this would remain a major hurdle to the SNP winning any a future referendum. The key challenge surrounds the public finances, as demonstrated by the annual reviews of the Scottish fiscal position carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The latest of these, published in March 2016, suggested that if the UK achieved a budget surplus of 0.5% of GDP in 2020-21, Scotland would still have a deficit of 6.2% of GDP.
“The implication of this work was that an independent Scotland would require substantial additional austerity to make its public finances sustainable. And as our 2014 for the Weir Group demonstrated, public finances is one of several important issues which would need to be tackled, including currency arrangements, trade and pension arrangements.”
Sturgeon may have a strong political case for independence — i.e allowing Remain-voting Scotland to break away from Brexit Britain and pursue EU membership as an independent country — but trying to sell years of austerity to the Scottish public would be a difficult ask, Goodwin suggests.
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