Boris Johnson hailed “the dawn of a new era” and Nigel Farage congratulated himself for having “transformed the landscape of our country.” 

But at 11pm on Friday, 31 January, as Britain finally and officially exited the EU, the mood among the 1500 or so people who had gathered outside Holyrood to mark the passing of their European citizenship was funereal rather than festive, the rhetoric sombre rather than celebratory. 

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STIRLING, Scotland—The constituency of Stirling sprawls across central Scotland, stretching from the Trossachs National Park in the west to the village of Fallin, at the tip of the Firth of Forth, in the east. An old adage dating back to the 14th century and the Anglo-Scottish Wars, states: “He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland.”

In 2019, that may still be the case.

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Subtle it wasn’t. At the Scottish National Party’s conference in Aberdeen in October, the yellow stars of the European Union were projected onto a giant backdrop of the party’s initials, flanked by two Scottish flags.

The party’s in-your-face Europhilia is not just a signal to Scottish voters — who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU — that membership of the bloc is part of its vision of an independent Scotland. SNP leaders have been aggressively courting their counterparts across Europe, laying the groundwork for the next time the nation holds an independence referendum.

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Gordon Brown’s first act after he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997 was to grant the Bank of England operational independence.

The move was meant to signal a newfound pragmatism in Labour’s approach to the economy – no more reckless spending, no more excessive borrowing, no more outlandish leftwing demands for full employment. Instead, in stark contrast to the behaviour of previous Labour governments, the Blair-Brown administration would be a responsible steward of Britain’s national finances.

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In the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016, Scotland seemed to be on the brink of independence.

Scots rejected Brexit by an overwhelming 24 point margin, prompting Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon – the head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh – to start preparing the ground for a fresh referendum on separation from the UK.

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2017, it seemed, should have killed the campaign for Scottish independence stone dead.

At the UK general election in June, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a third of its Westminster seats, forcing SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to “reset” her plans for a second independence referendum. Then, in August, new analysis showed that an independent Scotland would face a projected budget deficit of 8.3 per cent – the largest of any EU state. And on top of that, major splits have begun to emerge within the ‘Yes’ base, as younger, more radical activists sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have clashed with older, more conservative nationalists loyal to the SNP. 

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Not that long ago, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon was the most exciting social democrat in European politics.

She took charge of the SNP – and with it an absolute majority at Holyrood, Scotland’s devolved national legislature – in the aftermath of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The SNP lost that referendum, but left-leaning Scots, many of them former Labour voters, flocked to her side.

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Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the Seanad yesterday was the first any foreign leader has given to the upper chamber of the Irish parliament. The Seanad is tucked away in a far corner of Leinster House, a complex of austere 18th century buildings on Kildare Street, just off St. Stephen’s Green, in central Dublin. Its antiquated press gallery can accommodate a grand total nine reporters, so, having travelled down from Belfast, I decamped to a small annex room with a wall-mounted TV and a failing internet connection.

The speech itself didn’t generate much advance coverage in the Irish media. The Irish Times dedicated a few short paragraphs on page five to Sturgeon’s meeting on Monday with Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs. They should have paid more attention.

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