Since Brexit, the United Kingdom has been in hot water. The economy, despite newfound stability, has inched its way back to the European Union. The financial markets have started showing a transition from London to Amsterdam and the investor sentiment could only be described as pessimistic. Safe to say that the much advocated Brexit disrupted more than originally anticipated; starting with a referendum, the exit has harmed the UK more than it salvaged in hindsight. A stabilizing economy is the only glimmer of hope and while the UK could use a period of dormancy to evade the vice of the pandemic entirely, apparently neither the pandemic nor the troubles are parting ways with the kingdom any time soon.
Months after the UK’s exit from the EU, the Scottish outcry for a new independence referendum has rattled Westminster. Despite a long shot at independence and the legislative authority of England drawing complexity for the referendum to begin with, the Pro-Independence factions in the Scottish parliament have gained momentum and the likelihood of another referendum alone could spark a nightmare for a unified Britain.
Scotland entered a union with England back in 1707: a 300-year old voluntary junction setting the foundation of the United Kingdom in all its might. However, the contentions over England’s excessive control started to surface in the late 20th century. While the Scottish allegiance to Britain remained tensile, the surging independence movement pilled popularity in the 1970s as London’s supremacy over revenues right off the Scottish coast started to irate the Scottish circles. An estimated 90% of the UK’s oil resources, majorly from the North Sea, fell under the Scottish jurisdiction. Roughly 4.13% of all UK exports stemmed from the fuel extracted from the North Sea, adding an estimated GBP 2.1 billion to Britain’s exchequer. However, the proceeds hardly benefitted the Scottish public; a major point of argument that ignited the nationalist movement in Scotland.
‘Its Scotlands Oil’ emerged as a popular slogan in the 70s for the Scottish National Party (SNP) – The first major Pro-Independence party in Scotland. The narrative spread like wildfire and the exceeding demands for dispersal of power eventually led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. However, the undertone of Scottish Independence was further augmented rather than subdued by a transfer of power to Edinburgh.
Now under an independent, democratic regiment, the Pro-Independence factions gained a proper footing; primarily in the form of SNP being the flag-bearer of the nationalist movement. As SNP held a consistent term after term leverage in the Scottish Parliament, the party achieved enough tenor in politics to pressure the UK under the premiership of David Cameron – the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – to hold a referendum. However, the underlying desire to be a part of the European Union far subsumed the desire to be an independent state. The Independence Referendum 2014 fell short of a majority as 55% of the Scottish public voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and by extension, a part of the EU. A diplomatic success for Cameron that could have erased any remnants of nationalism from Scotland, however, was short-lived as the 2016 Brexit vote changed Britain’s entire political landscape.
While the entire UK edged in a 51% majority vote to decisively push for Brexit, an overwhelming majority of Scotts opposed the move entirely. An estimated 62% of the Scottish voters stood against Brexit, many citing the move as a betrayal. The turning point in European politics revived the Pro-Independence factions of Scotland. More importantly, the Brexit vote paved a diplomatic route for the Scotts to vie for independence. A 2020 poll revealed a popular nationalist sentiment in the Scottish population; over 70% of the Scottish youth being strong proponents of an independent Scotland.
The pace has only picked up since the SNP seems to dominate Scottish politics. With another win posted in the Scottish Parliament, the Sturgeon-led SNP bagged a historic 4th consecutive win. While the First Minister fell short by a single seat to gain an outright majority in the Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon managed to eke out 64 seats – one more than her 2016 victory – in the 129-seat chamber. Combined with the Scottish Green Party (SGP) – The second-largest Pro-Independence party – Sturgeon aims to drive enough momentum to demand a fresh referendum. “When not if”. These were the words of Sturgeon who oozed optimism in the recent election victory. Sturgeon’s confidence stems from the fact that the UK is no longer part of the EU. Coupled with the abject disregard of the Scottish opinion in the Brexit movement, Surgeon runs a grandeur agenda to garner a public majority in the 2nd referendum.
Moreover, Sturgeon’s marvelous management of the covid pandemic alongside her precise judgment and agile decision making contrasted the abysmal management adopted by the Johnson regime. She not only managed to prove her dominance in the Scottish political circles but also managed to gain enough public support to maneuver through a possible referendum by deftly driving her popularity to support the movement. Thus, Scotland today not only lacks the primary reason to remain a part of the United Kingdom but its decision-makers have proved to be an efficient code of governance – thumping down arguments and reservations of the conservative Scotts opposing independence.
The legislative details are complex enough to push the movement years ahead. However, the 1998 Scotland Act allows the Scottish Parliament to pass legislation under England’s jurisdiction. That is, a second referendum could be held given the UK’s Prime Minister approves the step. Here lies the Paradox. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has clearly claimed that the matter was settled in 2014 and he will ‘Deny any request to hold a new referendum’. However, resisting a referendum would do no good to the UK’s reputation. It would prove to be further detrimental as it would transform Britain from a voluntary association to a compulsory one. The referendum, however, would be the first step in the long journey ahead for Scotland.
A successful referendum would open gates for Scotland to join the EU. However, a membership could be underway for several years until and unless all 27-member countries unanimously welcome Scotland. This would leave Scotland in a dilemma. Sharing a border with England, Scotland would face the same issues as currently flooding Northern Ireland. Even if Scotland manages to grab onto the EU membership, trade checks would put cross-border trade with England in peril. While a subsequent push to acknowledge Euro as the official currency would further debilitate the trade denominated in pounds for centuries. A shift would be problematic, especially to the Scottish constituencies bordering England.
The biggest threat, however, could only be gauged between the lines. Not only would a referendum kickstart a motion of severance of Scotland from the United Kingdom but a severe disequilibrium could provoke the already embroiled anti-Brexit voices in Ireland. As Peter Cardwell, a former special advisor of the UK government stated: “If Scotland becomes an independent country, then a unified Ireland is probably inevitable”. Thus, a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum would pull the trigger on the eventual dismemberment of Great Britain.