Brexit could be Scotland’s ticket into the EU as an independent state

In times like these, political journalists like me tend to reach for the collected works of WB Yeats. “All changed, changed utterly,” he wrote after Ireland’s Easter rebellion, and those words could not be more appropriate as a description of Scottish politics in the wake of yesterday’s Brexit vote. The Yeats poem captured a decisive moment that altered everything in its wake; for Scotland that moment was the 2014 independence referendum.

I say “Scottish politics”, for any vestige of “British politics” is now pushing up the proverbial daisies. The 2010 general election (in which Labour’s vote actually increased north of the border) sustained it for a while, but in every election since it has suffered death by a thousand cuts. In electoral and constitutional terms (if not broader social attitudes), Scotland and England are now poles apart.

It’s funny how quickly things change. A few weeks ago, in the wake of elections to the Scottish parliament, the prospect of a second independence referendum appeared to have receded, not least because the Scottish government found itself deprived of an overall majority. Senior Nationalists even briefed newspapers to that effect. But fast forward six weeks and this morning the first minister described another referendum as “highly likely”.

Nicola Sturgeon quoted from the SNP’s Holyrood manifesto. “We believe that the Scottish parliament should have the right to hold another referendum,” read the pertinent paragraph, “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

And as the first minister said at her Bute House press conference, the result of Thursday’s referendum clearly constituted a “significant and material change” in the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence less than two years ago. But at the same time, and as the wording of the manifesto implied, the most important consideration is how Scottish public opinion responds to that material change.

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