Editorial Board

Scotland's Next Independence Vote Needs Hard Facts

Scots should learn from Brexit, and make an informed decision about their future.

If at first you don’t succeed...

Photographer: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

In 2014, Scotland voted to stay in the U.K. -- but that was before Britain voted to quit the European Union. This week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland, in light of that event, ought to vote on independence again.

She’s right. Brexit is a momentous change -- big enough to justify another vote. Scots are far more enthusiastic about the EU than the English, and might well prefer to stay in the larger union as a separate nation. At the same time, though, they shouldn’t repeat the mistake Britain made when it voted on Europe. They should choose only once they know what they’re choosing. 

Sturgeon wants a new referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, saying the outlines of Britain’s deal with the rest of the European Union will be clear by then. One hopes so, but this remains to be seen. The course of these talks cannot be predicted with confidence. Rather than being ruled by the calendar, it would be wise for Scotland to vote after the U.K. has actually left the EU, not before.

Scotland to Seek Second Independence Vote From Britain

Scotland also needs to know what terms the EU will offer. Would Scotland be accepted as a full member, with all the rights and obligations that follow? How quickly could this happen? What control, if any, would it have over vital trade relations with the rest of the U.K.? Would it be obliged to adopt the euro, or could it inherit the currency opt-out negotiated by Britain?

QuickTake Scotland’s Independence Is Back on the Table

The European Commission has said little about Scotland’s prospects, except to say that there’d be no automatic right of membership. Officials wrestling with Brexit have little appetite for further complications, and Spain’s feelings on independence for Catalonia won’t incline its government to welcome a smooth Scottish accession. At the same time, it would be bizarre to reject a Scottish application, and sensible to expedite membership to limit any post-Brexit damage to trade. The point is, Scotland needs to know where the EU stands on all this before it votes.

The choice, once Scotland is in a position to make it, certainly won’t be easy. Much as Scots value the EU, the economic risks of separation from the U.K. are at least as great as the risks to Britain from leaving the EU. More than 60 percent of Scottish exports go to the rest of the U.K, compared with less than 20 percent to the EU. And the falling price of oil has caused Scotland’s North Sea revenue to plunge, leaving a budget deficit of roughly 10 percent of gross domestic product.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has criticized Sturgeon for seeking a second vote, and might try to block or delay it. This response is unfair: After Brexit, denying Scotland this choice would be wrong. But for Scotland’s sake the decision should be made in full possession of the facts.

    --Editors: Mark Gilbert, Clive Crook

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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