Former European Council president, Donald Tusk, has ruffled a few feathers by suggesting that Scotland would be welcomed back into Europe ‘enthusiastically’ if it were to gain independence.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Tusk revealed his empathy with the Scottish people, stating ‘I am very Scottish now, especially after Brexit’. Tusk said he had to prevent himself from “saying something too blunt,” because, touching his chest “sometimes I feel that I am a Scot here”.
The plain-spoken Polish politician has never hidden his opposition to Brexit, even as late on as December last year declaring it to be ‘one of the most spectacular mistakes’ in the history of the EU. He has also previously criticised the Leave campaign which preceded the EU referendum, saying it demonstrated ‘an unprecedented readiness to lie’.
The comments come at a time when support for Scottish independence has peaked. The pro-independence newspaper The National on Tuesday published the results of a Panelbase poll which placed support for abandoning the Union now at 52%. Hailed as a ‘stunning’ result by the newspaper, it is pointed out that the poll result is 5 points higher than it was in December 2019. Another poll conducted by YouGov last week also showed independence support higher than unionist at 51% to 49%.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has yet, however, to declare a second independence referendum, to the dismay of many nationalists. Many believe that the momentum is now with the independence movement, and given the reality of Brexit – something which the majority of Scots didn’t vote for – there could not be a better time for Scotland to forge its own path.
Sturgeon is being careful. The scenes of violence in Catalonia and subsequent arrests of politicians after they defied Spain and held their own referendum are not something she wants repeated in Scotland. Her speech on 31st January made it clear that she doesn’t want Scotland to gain independence by force, but by persuasion. And the first people to be persuaded are the Scottish people themselves, rather than the Westminster government. She stated: “Our task is to persuade a majority of people in Scotland to choose it [independence]. So I want to focus today on the work we need to do to persuade a majority in Scotland that independence is the right choice – and how in the process of doing that, we will secure our right to choose it in a referendum.”
Despite being celebrated by SNP politicians as a ‘stunning result’ 52% is far from a resounding endorsement of independence. It may be higher than the 45% who voted ‘Yes’ back in the 2014 referendum, but it is nonetheless not high enough for Sturgeon to take too many risks at this stage. There is clearly still work to do, as she has said herself.
Nevertheless in her speech on Brexit day, Sturgeon explicitly laid bare the process of how a referendum could come about. She admitted that she would want one this year, but that it may have to happen after the Scottish elections. And although she stressed how much she wanted such a referendum to be legal, she also didn’t rule out having to hold one against Westminster’s wishes.
So far, Johnson’s government has refused to transfer the powers to the Scottish parliament in order for a second referendum to be held. But Sturgeon suggests that if permission is not granted, it may still be legal for the parliament to hold a ‘consultative referendum’ even if it would still need Westminster’s agreement to implement the outcome. She states that “Should the UK Government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where this issue does have to be tested.”
Scotland is really venturing into uncharted territory as it seeks to gain independence. But as Westminster is never likely to comply with any action or legislation that leads to the break-up of the United Kingdom, it will be an uphill struggle for the independence movement. Undoubtedly there will be many legal challenges to come, as this issue will be one which puts the country’s legal system to the test.
As for Donald Tusk’s comments, it will be reassuring for the Scottish Nationalists to hear any voice of support from Europe, as encouragement from the EU could be critical to Scotland’s independent future. It is a sign that there is sympathy in Europe for Scotland’s plight at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Brexit, and that as Sturgeon has asked, a light may indeed be ‘left on’ for Scotland in the EU.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.