SO what does 2018 hold –stasis or ScotRef?

More impotent sitting on the sidelines while Westminster destroys every vestige of parliamentary credibility or a sudden Brexit-related showdown when Scots finally demand a UK escape route to grasp the chance of a new future within the EU?

Maybe next year will produce a curious mixture of both outlooks – where No-voting Scots realise Brexit is lunacy, but remain feeling trapped because they assume leaving the UK after 300 years must be even more difficult than leaving the EU after 40.

Of course, breaking up Britain won’t be easy. But there’s no precedent for leaving the EU (or indeed any of the world’s regional trade blocs) and Brexit negotiations involve 28 sovereign governments led by EU institutions. Declarations of independence are more straightforward by comparison – they involve fewer players, there is precedent and also international law in Europe around the de-aggregation of shared assets.

On New Year’s Day, for example, a small, mountainous European country of just over five million people will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an independent nation. Since independence, it has enjoyed some of Europe’s highest growth rates and has become an active member of the European Union.

Slovakia was known as the smaller, less developed and weaker part of Czechoslovakia until its “Velvet Divorce” from the Czech Republic in 1993. Now it scores higher in almost every economic indicator.

Former BBC correspondent Angus Roxburgh observed just before the indyref in 2014: “Even though the ‘divorce’ was rushed through in a matter of months, allowing little time for negotiations, Slovakia was admitted to international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF from day one, and became a member of the United Nations after just 19 days.

“Czechoslovakia was not a member of the European Union at the time but both new countries went on to join the EU in 2004, and it was Slovakia, not the Czech Republic (previously seen as economically more vibrant), that was first to adopt the euro, in the days when that was a mark of respectability.”

Another recently independent small nation will also be celebrating in 2018. In January 27 years ago, Soviet forces killed 13 Lithuanians in a futile bid to crush their nation’s declaration of independence.

It was no easy journey to independence. It took an enormous show of solidarity against the Soviet Union, when two million people from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined hands to form the Baltic Way – a 600-km-long human chain connecting Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) to Tallinn (the capital of Estonia). But this revolutionary, peaceful demonstration was a turning point for Lithuania which declared independence two years later – triggering similar declarations in the neighbouring Baltic Republics.

In 2004 Lithuania joined the EU and has since adopted the Euro.

Of course, all these independence movements have their own, unique, not-to-be-copied origins. The same is true of the “seditious” Catalans who go to the polls today in an election that will boost or break the credibility of their “illegal” independence declaration.

The point is that small nations across Europe have been flexing their muscles for the last 30 years – even though that angers Eurocrats led by large states which were opportunistically cobbled together during the last century.

So when will it be Scotland’s turn?

I realise it’s the question on every Yesser’s lips. When will we finally be heading towards the second referendum? That is impossible to know. Some SNP luminaries predicted the vote would have to come after the next Holyrood elections, but quickly ate their words as Brexit problems surfaced to shake the confidence of stock markets, investors, business and punters.

Really – I doubt the First Minister has a date or even dates circled on her calendar. And actually, that’s fine. Because behind the bluff, bravado, claim and counter claim on the “front-line” of politics, something rather more important is happening.

Once No-voting Scots are quietly withdrawing their trust in the UK Government.

One particular poll is significant. Last weekend, a survey of 758 businesses owners and directors across the political spectrum showed that a massive 90 per cent don’t trust the UK Government to secure the best Brexit deal for Scotland, 89 per cent don’t trust them to secure the best deal for the whole of the UK and 78 per cent believe Brexit talks would be more productive with the direct involvement of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations. That’s a massive vote of no confidence in the competence and fairness of Westminster amongst members of the business sector which once supported its right to run Scotland without (much) question.

The poll – conducted by Business for Scotland – prompted some frank and remarkable responses.

A director of one FTSE 100 company said: “When the virtually inevitable car crash happens, the Scottish end of the business will most probably be moved to Europe, which is a crying shame as the expertise at home is unsurpassed in our market segment. However with no likelihood of stability it will be a logical step to move.”

The director of a UK bank simply said: “Absolute bloody shambles.” And a senior manager of a global organisation with 800 employees in Scotland and 80,000 world wide said: “Appalling incompetence and condescending to the devolved administrations.”

Theresa May has lost the confidence of these influential Scots. The question is – when push finally comes to shove and a moment of constitutional choice arises – will the business community revert to type or remember these feelings of horror and disbelief? Will these anonymous decision-makers keep their heads down, or take the courageous step of speaking out for a new start? Who knows? But the drift of business conversation today is dramatically different to the drift in 2013/14.

And there’s more.

The recent stooshie over the loss of Scotland as a brand name or place of origin on Tesco and M&S supermarket shelves didn’t just galvanise angry consumers and prompt the launch of the #keepScotlandtheBrand social media campaign and The National’s own Save Our Scotland Brand campaign.

Food producers, farmers, whisky manufacturers and tourism businesses all started to realise their export and even domestic sales are at stake because all depend upon the fact Scotland is synonymous with premium quality products the world over. If Scotland loses that brand recognition – either subsumed beneath a catch-all “British” tag or forced to share its name with any post-Brexit trade partners – Scotland will lose tourists, market share and revenue and our rural economy will be hit particularly hard.

And it could well happen. Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Scotch whisky are just three products set to lose their protected status after Brexit. Will the UK Government really risk losing valuable trade deals to protect the jewels of Scotland’s trading crown?

It’s not just Yessers who ha’e their doots.

In recently signed EU-level trade deals with Canada and Japan, the UK did not assign a single “Protected Geographical Indicator” (in other words, “made in Scotland”) to any Scottish goods. And that suits other nations perfectly.

Recent trade talks with America revealed they want to call their whisky “Scotch”.

Indeed, after International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s visit to the US this summer, Scotland’s Economy Secretary Keith Brown called for Scotch to be defined in UK law in order to protect whisky exports.

There’s been no response. So will the British Government risk losing an American trade deal by declaring Scotland’s amber bead off limits? Will Scotch in the hands of David Davis become as tradable as Scotland’s fish in the hands of Michael Gove?

One thing’s for sure. Scotland’s farmers and producers, distillers and hoteliers, fruit pickers and tourist businesses are now on the alert, waiting to see if Westminster gets the promised Brexit deal that benefits the whole UK or trades Scotland’s hard-worn reputation for excellence for some passporting rights to benefit the City of London.

Who knows when ScotRef will occur? But the tectonic plates underlying public opinion are already moving. Not because of any clever Yes arguments but because Westminster is seen to be acting in bad faith, against the economic interests of tens of thousands of Scots. So despite the gloom and uncertainty, let’s welcome in 2018 – because whatever May, Mundell and Davidson say to the contrary, it’s coming yet for a’ that.

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