On Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shocked the United Kingdom by announcing plans to go to the Scottish Parliament to seek permission to hold a second referendum for Scottish independence. Although Prime Minister Theresa May spoke out against the plans, describing Sturgeon's move as "playing politics", it would be difficult for May to block the idea completely. A second Scottish independence referendum is coming in the short-medium future. With this, it will be the end of Sturgeon's rule one way or the other.
As with all referendums, there are two scenarios - Yes or No. In 2014, 'No' beat 'Yes' to independence by 55.3% of the vote to 44.7%. If this result was to be repeated, then Sturgeon's position as First Minister would become untenable and she would be forced to resign. She would follow Alex Salmond's and David Cameron's lead, resigning in the wake of a loss of a referendum on a constitutional issue.
This is also the most likely scenario. Although opinion polls are split on the referendum vote, it would be difficult for Sturgeon to create enough cross-section support from Leavers and Remainers crossed with Unionists and Separatists. In July 2016, 38% of Scotland voted to leave the European Union. It will be difficult for Sturgeon to win over this support if she pledges to re-join the EU if Scotland is to become independent.
Of the 62% that voted to remain, she would have to attract many of them with a plan to re-join the EU in a quick and orderly fashion. The EU itself has said that Scotland would have to apply to join the bloc and receive unanimous agreement from the heads of the other EU members to join the EU. However, Spain's Mariano Rajoy has dismissed Scotland's case for special entry to the bloc and is likely to block Scotland's accession talks for fear of legitimising a breakaway state whilst Catalonia seeks independence from Spain. Similarly, Spain does not recognise Kosovo because it broke away from Serbia, halting EU accession talks for the country. In this scenario, it would be difficult for Sturgeon to argue independence would be a vote to remain within the EU. Thus the argument in favour of having the referendum in the first place - because the political landscape had changed as much that Scotland is now in being dragged out of the EU - will not make sense, because Scotland is unlikely to join the EU with or without being part of the Union.
In addition, many issues that were left unresolved last time would re-emerge. What will the UK trading relationship be? What will the official Scottish currency be? How does Scotland propose to keep social spending so high when it is are a net beneficiary of money from the United Kingdom?
The alternative is, of course, that Scotland actually votes for independence. Unlikely, but in a world of populism it is not impossible. Sturgeon would have to try and deliver on her promise to bring Scotland back into the EU, or at least the Single Market quickly. As outlined above, this would be near impossible for her without providing Spain a hefty reason as to why they should support her bid to re-join the EU. Other EU member states may be wary of a newly formed, independent country joining the EU without proving economic credibility, which would cause further delays to accession.
Furthermore, the backbone of Scotland's economic plan, North Sea Oil, has been slashed in value since the 2014 referendum. Currently standing at $50 a barrel, Sturgeon has not presented a coherent economic plan to present to the Scottish people. If Sturgeon wants to demonstrate independence as a vote for certainty during tough economic times for Scotland, she must come up with a stronger argument than she currently has.
If Sturgeon were to win an independent referendum and Scotland were to leave the EU, the promises of economic certainty and re-joining, at worst, the Single Market would be two too big promises. NATO, too, has said that Scotland would have to apply to join and be unanimously accepted by NATO members, which would be an interesting proposition for the UK's prime minister to ponder. She will inevitably fail in the medium-term scale and would be forced to resign, potentially at the expense of the SNP's minority government in the Scottish Parliament.
Nicola Sturgeon is a brilliant, intelligent woman. She has not taken this decision lightly and has certainly believes this path is best for Scotland. However, she is placing her career on the line if she truly pushes for the referendum to take place. Whichever way the referendum goes Sturgeon faces the end of her career. If she loses, she must resign. If she wins, she will steer Scotland into an inevitable short-term decline and be forced from office. If Scotland does vote for independence and is successful as an independent nation, she will not be remembered for putting it there.