Scotland and Brexit: A Play with Three Acts?

When the Scots originally voted to remain in the United Kingdom (UK) in September 2014, they did so with the implicit understanding that they would also be remaining in the European Union (EU) as part of the UK.  One of the major counterarguments to Scotland’s leaving the UK was that it was not guaranteed that the EU would admit a separatist Scotland (due to EU member Spain’s ongoing conflict with separatist Catalonia). Now that England has effectively decided for the whole UK to leave the EU over overwhelming Scottish support for remaining in the EU, Scotland’s rationale for remaining in the UK to maintain EU membership no longer holds.

In the June 2016 Brexit referendum, 62% of Scottish voters wanted to “Remain” in the EU. In spite of this sentiment, Scotland’s decision to remain in the UK in September 2014 may have positively influenced the UK’s decision to exit from the EU in June 2016.  Had the Scots decided in the fall of 2014 to forge their own path, the remaining English, Welsh, and Northern Irish may have felt less sure of their united ability to stand as an independent nation divorced from European support. In other words, by voting to remain in the EU, the Scots may have inadvertently propelled the UK towards leaving the EU itself.

Philosophically, the Scots now have a major question to ask themselves: do they feel more secure tethered to a go-it alone United Kingdom; or would they rather strike out with the European Union?  Time may be rapidly running out for the Scots to make their decision; this past week, newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited a skittish Scotland. In reaction to his visit, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon stated, “…whatever Boris Johnson might be saying publicly about his preference being to strike a deal, in reality he is really pursuing a no-deal Brexit…I think that is extremely dangerous for Scotland…”  The First Minister also suggested that how Brexit played out would influence the timing of the proposed second Scottish independence referendum.

In other words, Brexit has shaken Scotland’s certainty in even the meaning of its national decision to remain in the UK.  Had the UK voted to remain in the EU, the existential question on Scotland’s place within the UK could have been put to rest. Now, England’s opposing desire to leave the EU has highlighted an inescapable fact: England can always out-vote Scotland on all important matters relating to Scotland’s relationship to the EU.

An ideal tonic for Scotland’s uncertain future relationship with the UK and the EU is clear: the holding of a second Scottish independence referendum currently championed by the First Minister.  In fact, the formal request for one has already been submitted to the British Parliament, which has promptly tabled the question while it does battle upon itself over the implementation of Brexit.  The Scots surely thought, as then-Prime Minister David Cameron did when he originally called for the Brexit referendum, that the UK as a whole would side with remaining within the EU. That this conventional wisdom was proved wrong is all the more reason to give the Scots another chance to weigh their nation’s future in light of recent developments.

In conclusion, ‘facts on the ground’ have evolved to a point where a second Scottish independence referendum is not only politically possible, but necessary to gauge whether Scots wish to remain within the new United Kingdom they find themselves in post-Brexit referendum.  For the British Parliament to refuse them a second referendum in light of the massive impact the impending Brexit event will have on the culture, identity, and economy of Scotland would be a disservice to the Scottish people. The Scots clearly wish to remain members of the European Union; what is unclear is whether they still wish to remain subjects of the British Crown.