Q&A: This is what you now need to know about the second Scottish independence referendum

Hayley Kirton
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Nicola Sturgeon Suggests Second Scottish Independence Referendum In The Autumn
The first minister's plans should come as no surprise, but this does create more uncertainty for businesses, experts warn (Source: Getty)

Nicola Sturgeon announced today she would shortly be heading to Scottish parliament to seek a second referendum on the country's independence, with the possibility the nation could be casting their votes at some point between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. But what does it all mean?

Should we be surprised by the first minister's comments?

Probably not. Scotland voted strongly in favour of remaining in the EU and politicians north of the border have been making noises for some time now. Sterling remained largely unmoved after the announcement was made, while Michael Stanes, investment director at Heartwood Investment Management, said that all today's announcement revealed was "Brexit will be a politically messy and divisive process".

"The first minister's carefully timed announcement has generally been expected by Scottish businesses given recent political commentary," added Hazel Moffat, litigation & regulatory partner at DLA Piper.

What will the relationship between an independent Scotland and the EU look like?

Scottish social media fans might wish to change their Facebook status to 'It's complicated'.

"The rights which Scottish businesses have to do business in the EU are the result of the UK's membership of the EU," said Andrew Henderson, a partner in the financial institutions group of Eversheds. "The lack of clarity around the status of these rights together with uncertainty about the political desirability of a country that secedes from an EU Member State makes the current quandary around the UK's future relationship with the EU look tame."

Does the independence referendum mean Scotland might be able to stay a member of the EU?

The jury's out on that one. "The announcement more clearly articulates the Scottish government's plan to seek a referendum during the window of autumn 2018 and spring 2019 to allow the Scottish electorate to be informed on the detail of the Brexit 'deal' negotiated by the UK government but before the two year deadline for the UK's departure is triggered," explained Moffat. "Whether or not the EU remains willing and indeed is legally and constitutionally able at that point to negotiate with Scotland to remain as a member of the EU (instead of the UK) – if indeed it votes for independence – remains to be seen."

How many people in Scotland voted to stay in the EU?

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of people in Scotland voted in favour of Remain when they went to the polls last June, compared with just 48.1 per cent of voters overall.

What does this mean for businesses?

News that a second Scottish referendum could be just around the corner is not great for firms, many of which are still trying to muddle their way through what Brexit means for them.

"Business communities all across the UK will be thinking, first and foremost, about the additional uncertainty that a second independence referendum would generate," said Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

"Across Scotland – and throughout the UK – businesses want certainty, stability and confidence from governments. Firms understandably fear that another drawn-out constitutional debate would divert both Holyrood and Westminster away from delivering the best possible environment for business and growth."

Henderson added: "For businesses within Edinburgh and London, a second Scottish Referendum will throw up further uncertainty and complication."

How has the business community reacted so far?

UBS wealth management economist Dean Turner warned: “While Brexit has, of course, added a new dimension, the economic concerns that led the majority in Scotland to vote to remain a part of the UK have not disappeared.

“Scottish GDP lags behind the UK and declining oil revenues have raised questions over the fiscal sustainability for an independent Scotland – especially if it intends to retain the pound.”

Scottish business groups have also given the decision a lukewarm reception. Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “Scotland has been through two referendums and two major elections over the past three years, and there is no doubt that this period of continual uncertainty has had a material impact upon businesses in Scotland."

What are the chances Scotland will vote for independence?

William Hill has already slapped 4/6 odds on the country voting for independence, compared to odds of 11/10 for a no vote.

"A second Indie Ref before the end of 2024, and quite possibly before the end of 2020, now looks inevitable, and we believe it is an odds chance that it will produce a vote in favour of independence" said the bookie's spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Would it be possible the second referendum might not even happen?

It's possible, as Sturgeon will need to get the thumbs up from the Scottish parliament first. The Scottish Greens have already said they will give their blessing, but Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has slammed to move as "utterly irresponsible" and the Scottish Labour party has indicated it will vote against another independence referendum.

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