March 5. 2024. 12:45

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The end to independence day


In this edition, we look at how Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as Scotland’s first minister could spell the beginning of the end of the independence movement.


Editor’s Take: The end to independence day

Post-Brexit predictions are a mug’s game but one forecast that seemed hard to critique was that leaving the EU would dramatically increase the chances of Scottish independence.

That was – mea culpa – the wrong call. The sudden resignation of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon could well put an end to the independence debate for a generation.

Being vaguely leftist on economics and unashamedly liberal on social policy has made Nicola Sturgeon something of a bogeywoman for right-wing pundits and politicians in the UK, who are gleeful about her departure, especially so soon after the resignation of New Zealand premier Jacinda Arden, another standard bearer for popular left-liberalism.

Sturgeon got into difficulties over her handling of the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which proposed allowing anyone over the age of 16 to legally change their sex without consulting a doctor. She was vetoed by the UK government.

And then there was the issue of a transgender rapist initially being placed in a female jail and then moved to a male facility.

Sturgeon’s critics – particularly those who are enemies of anything ‘woke’ and the causes of ‘woke’ – claim that this is what did for her.

But there are a couple of major disclaimers. Firstly, Nicola Sturgeon has been first minister for almost nine years and her Scottish National Party has governed Scotland for 15 years uninterrupted.

Leaders and governments rarely last that long and being in government tends to take a heavy toll on incumbents’ health and popularity. With the exception of Angela Merkel or, perhaps, Viktor Orban, it’s hard to think of any European politician who was as popular at home after nine years in office as they were when they were elected.

The SNP’s record on public services and economy is distinctly mixed but the party is still polling at about 45%, more than 15 points ahead of a Labour party that looks almost certain to win the next UK election.

Perhaps the real reason for Sturgeon’s departure is that the prospects of Scottish independence, and EU membership, are increasingly small.

A bungled Brexit forced on a country which opposed it by a 2 to 1 margin; and a very unpopular English-dominated Conservative government in Westminster should have created the perfect political conditions for a drive towards Scottish independence.

Yet as Sturgeon stands down, opinion polls suggest a 45-55 lead for a ‘No’ campaign.

The departure of dominant and charismatic politicians almost always leads to a vacuum and none of Sturgeon’s potential successors are well-known outside their own families let alone the UK. Labour see her resignation as their best chance to win back seats in Scotland that could catapult them back into power.

The UK Supreme Court’s ruling in December that the SNP cannot force a referendum if Westminster says ‘no’ also severely limited the Edinburgh government’s room for manouevre, since the SNP has ruled out a Catalan-style ‘wildcat’ referendum.

The Labour party’s decision twenty years ago to allow most of its talented Scottish politicians to pursue the Westminster career path while the SNP focused its attention on the Edinburgh parliament was a major tactical blunder that paved the way for a generation of SNP hegemony.

That one-party Scottish state may be coming to an end.


Politics in the Spotlight

Today we offer a video interview with the Spanish EU lawmaker Domenec Ruiz Devesa, who thinks that the approval of the EU electoral reform is ‘doable’ for the 2024 elections.


Who’s electioneering?

Former Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides wins in Cyprus. Nikos Christodoulides won the second round of voting in the Cyprus presidential election on Sunday (12 February). According to the result, he got 51.9% of votes while the competitor Andreas Mavroyiannis got 48.1%.


Capitals-in-brief

German airport ground crews to strike on Friday. Amid continued fights over remuneration, labour union ver.di has called for strikes at multiple German airports to be held Friday in what could bring some of Europe’s largest air travel hubs to a standstill.

Ukraine to boycott upcoming OSCE meeting in Vienna. Ukraine will boycott the OSCE meeting in Vienna due to Russian participation, with Ukrainian parliamentarians fearing a “whitewash” of Russian war crimes and their speaker calling for it to be postponed as it will be held exactly one year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started.

Portugal wants to play key role in EU-Africa relations. Portugal wants to play a pivotal role in helping the EU understand developments on the African continent, particularly with regard to peace, security and stability, Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho told EURACTIV’s partner Lusa from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Albania pledges more support for Ukraine at NATO Brussels meeting. Albanian Defence Minister Niko Peleshi took part in the two-day NATO Defence Ministers Meeting in Brussels this week, pledging more support for Ukraine while increasing stockpiles and strengthening deterrence and defence.


Inside the institutions

How many other idiots are still there? This is what Enlargement EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said in Hungarian on Tuesday (14 February), while facing a Q&A session in Strasbourg with EU lawmakers on enlargement policy in Western Balkans. Many MEPs were upset. The day after, Várhelyi apologised, saying that he was “misunderstood”. A spokesperson from Renew Europe told EURACTIV that the group “want his resignation after a short investigation,” because the “Commissioner does not defend the European interest”.

EU sets out new €11b Russia sanctions, adds Iranian entities for first time. The EU aims to sanction seven Iranian entities cooperating with the Russian military as part of the bloc’s tenth sanction package against Russia, which is set to hit Moscow with trade bans and technology export controls worth €11 billion over its invasion of Ukraine.

Jailed MEP Eva Kaili to make new request for release. Imprisoned EU lawmaker Eva Kaili will make a new request on Thursday to be released until her trial for her involvement in the Qatargate takes place. Meanwhile, Le Soir reported that ten socialist MEPs, all Italians, sent a letter to European Parliament chief Roberta Metsola denouncing the conditions under which their former colleague is being held in the prison of Haren.

Commission sues Poland over court challenge to primacy of EU law. The European Commission will sue Poland at the European Court of Justice over challenges to the primacy of EU law made by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal in two rulings in 2021. The two rulings “directly challenged the primacy of EU law and the provisions of the EU treaties”, the Commission said in a statement on Wednesday (15 February).

EU Commission clarifies digital implications of new product liability framework. Last week, the European Commission circulated a non-paper with EU governments to clarify the digital elements of the new Product Liability Directive (PLD). which aims to make it fit for the digital age.

Lagarde confirms ECB will raise rates again in March. European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde reiterated Wednesday (15 February) that the institution plans to raise its interest rates by a half percentage point even as the eurozone’s economic outlook improves.


What we are reading

More risk, fewer rules: the plan to revive the City of London. Ministers and financiers hope ‘Big Bang 2.0’ can be a blueprint for the post-Brexit era. But will its equity markets ever attract big tech companies? The Financial Times reports.

Europe Turned an Energy Crisis Into a Green Energy Sprint, writes David Wallace-Wells for The New York Times

On migration, Europe needs to pivot from walls to work, writes Michele Levoy for the EU Observer


The next week in politics

Foreign affairs Council on Monday (20 February) and General Affairs Council on Tuesday (21 February), with a calm week at the European Parliament as EU lawmakers will be busy with activities outside the EU Chamber (green week).

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