LITTLE more than half a year after the vote to leave the European Union, there is talk of another referendum in Britain. This time the people who could be offered the chance to “take back control” are the Scots. They voted against independence by a clear margin less than three years ago. But Brexit, which they also opposed, has put the issue back on the table. Scotland’s nationalist government has drafted a bill for another independence vote. Polls suggest that it could have a shot at success.

No wonder: the nationalists’ argument that Scotland is a different country has never looked more convincing. Regarding Brexit, the defining issue of the times, 62% of Scots voted to Remain but will be dragged out anyway by the English. The dominant parties in Westminster, the Tories and Labour, have a grand total of two of Scotland’s 59 MPs. And many of the arguments made in favour of the union in 2014 have evaporated. Scots were told that staying with Britain was their only way to remain in the EU, since independence would require them to reapply and face opposition from Spain, which wants to discourage its own Catalan separatists. Instead, being part of Britain has proved a one-way ticket out of Europe. The strong British economy that they were urged to remain part of is forecast to slow. And rousing talk about the union—the “precious, precious bond” that Theresa May evoked in her maiden speech as prime minister—rings hollow, given the casualness with which Scottish concerns have been cast aside.

Yet if Brexit was a political earthquake, Scotland has suffered a less-noticed economic earthquake, too. At the time of the independence referendum, Scotland was growing at a similar rate to the rest of Britain. Since then it has been on a different track (see article). In two of the past five quarters it has failed to grow at all. The main reason is its reliance on fossil fuels and finance, which are doing badly. In 2014 a barrel of Brent crude cost $110, leading the nationalist government to forecast that an independent Scotland would enjoy tax revenues from energy of £8.3bn ($12.5bn) in 2015-16. Oil’s subsequent crash (it is now $55) meant the actual figure was 1% of that forecast. And the black gold is running out: the original Brent rig will be dismantled this summer. Finance, which along with oil and gas has generated exports equivalent to up to a third of Scotland’s GDP in recent years, is also suffering. Since September 2014 Scotland has lost a tenth of its financial jobs. (London gained some.) Last year average pay in the industry fell by 5%.

For a country of 5m people that depends on two sputtering industries, to go it alone would be a gamble. Yet Scots may conclude that remaining in the Brexit-bound union would be riskier still. They would be wrong. For although Mrs May’s willingness to leave the single market and customs union is likely to be bad for Britain, it also makes independence more complicated. If the EU were prepared to readmit it, Scotland would face a harder border with England. Nationalists say they could import whatever arrangement is made in Ireland, where a similar problem exists. But there may be no such neat solution. And rejoining the EU’s single market at the cost of leaving Britain’s would make no sense: Scotland exports four times as much to the rest of Britain as it does to the EU.

Scotland the brave

This uncomfortable truth may be lost in the heat of another independence campaign. The ruling Scottish National Party has a knack for combining power with protest, claiming credit for Scotland’s successes while pinning blame for its failures on Westminster. As economic conditions in Scotland decline, the blame will fall on Brexit and Tory austerity. And whereas independence was once a frightening unknown, it now looks like a chance to turn back the clock to the safe old days of EU membership. When English ministers warn about the risks of secession, their own Brexit lines will be thrown back at them: Scots will be urged to seize control from distant politicians they never elected; those pointing out the costs will be branded members of “project fear”; the trashing by Brexiteers of institutions from the Treasury to the Bank of England will mean that impartial warnings can be dismissed as biased or incompetent.

Many of those Scots who voted to stay in the union in 2014 did so for clear economic reasons. Britain’s exit from the EU muddies that case. The alarming result is that Brexit has made Scottish independence more harmful—and more likely.