Professor Richard G Whitman, Visiting Senior Fellow, Europe Programme, at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London could not be a more UK establishment figure. He has special interests in defence and security and has advised both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
On 14th March he wrote: ‘Theresa May’s ‘Two Union’ Problem: Scotland and Article 50’. The complete piece is worth a look, reference below. As you might expect from a defence and security interest he’s particularly aware of the dangers of fighting on two fronts. Here’s some of what he says about that:
‘Now that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she will push for a second Scottish independence referendum…..what it means now is that Theresa May has a ‘two union’ problem to address. She has the problem, obviously, of the negotiations with the European Union which are just about to kick off, but she also now has the dual and interconnected problem of the union of the United Kingdom and holding that together which means that essentially she’s fighting a set of negotiations, or a political conflict, on two fronts. And they are of course intimately connected. So if she succeeds in the EU negotiations in terms of getting what she wants, or what the UK government appears to want – which is a fairly uncomplicated deal in terms of institutional interconnection with the EU – that’s likely to disappoint the Scottish nationalists, and so it’s going to accelerate the programme for triggering the referendum in Scotland.’
He goes on to praise Sturgeon’s timing of her attack:
‘What I think is very canny about Nicola Sturgeon’s timescale is calling for it just on cusp of the end of the [Brexit] negotiations. So you’ll have a sense of what the deal is like and whether the deal is the kind of deal that the Scottish nationalists want, which is as close as possible to normal [EU] membership – which Theresa May doesn’t want. So there is a very strong interconnection between the two.’
Was that ‘canny’ just a bit patronising? Whitman goes on to make much of the lack of unity in the four UK administrations when it comes to negotiating with the EU. Indeed he notes, as negotiations progress and decisions have to be made, for example, about returned powers going to Westminster or to Holyrood, the devolved administrations especially in Scotland and Wales will have more opportunities to disrupt May’s tactics as they fight for the interests of their own citizens over that of her priorities – the banks, Nissan, French nuclear contracts, Ireland and Gibraltar. If she sacrifices the Scottish fishing fleet in a deal, expect a tonne of smelly fish dumped at her door. All of this obvious division and disagreement will be seen by the EU negotiators and strengthen their hands at the expense of May’s negotiators. They do want to punish the UK.
One thing Whitman misses, strangely for a defence and security expert worrying correctly about the dangers of a war on two fronts for Theresa, is that unlike Napoleon or Hitler, she has no competent generals to lead for her in different parts of a complex campaign. On the Scottish front, her forces despise each other and will not follow one leader. It’ll be like Syria. She has no equivalent to Alistair Darling this time. Liam Fox would be a gift to the SNP. I don’t know the Welsh situation well enough but I suspect Labour there will not follow her orders. Even on the European front, who does she have of any quality? Johnson, Fox, Davis and Leadsom are inexperienced, unpredictable, thick or all three of those. Hammond is the best and he’s timid, cautious or mediocre at best.
Whitman finishes with:
‘I think that if you get a hard Brexit deal or a failure to get a deal on the part of the Conservative government – in other words, an agreement to disagree with the EU in terms of a settlement through the Article 50 negotiations – I think there is a greater-than-not likelihood of Scottish independence.’
I’m in danger of getting too confident here.