England and Wales voted in favor of leaving the European Union, but Scotland and Northern Ireland largely voted against leaving. The British government has stated that all countries in the United Kingdom will be involved in the discussions moving forward from Brexit. However, some have posed that Brexit could spark nationalists sentiments that could divide the U.K., especially in Scotland. Scotland lost the vote for independence back in 2014, but Brexit has the potential to change the minds of the in favor of staying in the U.K.
It is widely accepted that Scotland is able to become an independent state. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been campaigning for independence before and after 2014. Their reasoning behind wanting independence is that Scotland is already a nation and should take the full rights and responsibilities that come with it. They want Scotland to become an independent state so that the Scottish people have full control over the decisions made in the country. Additionally, setting up international borders would be fairly easy and setting up international deals and relationships separate from the U.K. would come with time. It is also important to recognize that the U.K. itself is aware that Scotland could very well function as a state separate from their control; the British government has said that if Scotland wants to become independent they would allow it, as demonstrated by the referendum.
Though it is not impossible for Scotland to remain a member of the EU, it is likely that they will leave with the U.K. As talks between the U.K. and the EU near in the coming summer months, Scotland will be brought into these talks as a part of the U.K. According to The Independent, there is not currently any serious talk of holding another referendum to vote for Scottish independence in the near future; but members of the Scottish government, including some MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, have endorsed the idea of a second referendum. However, even though serious talks are not in the works for the immediate future, that does not mean it cannot happen. The true effects of Brexit after the U.K. completely breaks away from the EU are unknown; if the ripples from Brexit disturb the water in Scotland too much, they may feel another vote is necessary. Additionally, if Scotland did vote for independence, their government, laws, and systems are already set up according the EU standards. Back in 2014, the EU stated that if Scotland were to vote for independence they would be leaving the Union as well and would have to reapply again; this would also mean that their application to the Union would be placed in the queue behind other applicants such as Turkey. It is possible this was a deterring factor for some people as this reapplication would have made independence more complicated.
When the Brexit votes came in, the SNP saw it as a change in circumstances that would warrant a second referendum. According the BBC News, the Scottish voted remain in the Union by 62%, while the U.K. as a whole voted leave by 52%. The SNP claimed that, due to the voting numbers, Scotland was being taken out of the EU ‘against its will’ and needed a chance to vote for itself again. These were strong claims made by the SNP, but they have performed strongly in recent elections; they won 48 of the 59 seats in the last election. Though some members of the Scottish government have had hope of a new referendum, the U.K. has rejected a deal; PM Boris Johnson called the 2014 referendum a ‘once in a generation’ event. This statement raises questions about what, if anything, Scotland can do without the approval of Westminster. There has been a long standing legal debate to decide if Scottish Parliament can pass a law needed for another independence vote, or if only the MPs at Westminster can achieve this. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has declined the possibility of holding an illegal referendum, like Catalonia held in 2017; she has not, however, ruled out the possibility that Scottish Parliament can legally get another referendum without Westminster. Sturgeon did send approval to the Electoral Commission to re-test the independence question, something she had previously refused.
Britain has recognized that Scotland can be an independent state and has said on more than one occasion that, should the Scottish people vote for independence, it will grant it to them. Johnson’s refusal to grant them another referendum willingly seems to go back on Britain’s previous statements. Scotland is not bound to the United Kingdom, nor should it be. If, or when, the Scottish people decide that they no longer wish to be a part of the United Kingdom, they should be able to vote their way out. Anything short of allowing this would be undemocratic.
The question still remains: has Brexit changed the minds of the Scottish people? Polls have been done to see if the Scottish people would vote yes in a new referendum and so far the results are not conclusive. The margin is still very thin, though some polls do put yes ahead. Even though these results are still inconclusive, Scotland is still inching a little bit closer to an independence vote.
However, even if Scotland got a new referendum and it became independent, this would be a long process as there would be a transition period as Scotland separates from the U.K. Back in 2014, the pro-independence side estimated it would take 18 months to fully transition to an independent Scotland; this surpasses the U.K.’s final deadline of leaving the EU by the end of 2020. This means Scotland would leave the EU with the U.K. and have to apply to join again. Scotland has the advantage of having previously been an EU member, but questions about their currency, borders, and economy do arise. It is thought that, until they are ready to transition, Scotland could continue to use the pound. After independence, Scotland would take measures to bolster the economy. The First Minister also would like to avoid a hard border between Scotland and England. She has, however, assured that these questions would all be answered in detail prior to any vote. For now, Scotland waits idly while the U.K. pulls it out of the EU. Questions as to whether the effects of Brexit and Johnson will push Scotland towards independence will soon be answered.
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