Scotland launches its bid to stay in the EU
Britain has voted to leave the EU, but there is one problem: Scotland wants to stay. An independence referendum is now ‘highly likely’ says Nicola Sturgeon. Could this be the end of the UK?
‘We have tonight made history!’ was the joyful declaration from the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon less than two months ago. After a long election night, her party had emerged victorious, winning an unprecedented third term in charge of the Scottish Parliament. But despite the SNP’s ultimate goal of independence from the UK, Sturgeon had promised that a second referendum was ‘off the table’.
What a difference a few weeks make. She cut a far more sombre figure after another historic night last Friday — but as David Cameron resigned and Labour began its descent towards a bitter leadership contest, Sturgeon’s vision was clear. It is ‘democratically unacceptable’ for Scotland to be ‘taken out of the EU against our will’, she said. The UK as a whole may have voted to leave the EU last week, but around 62% of Scottish voters opted to stay. Sturgeon has promised to try to make that happen.
First she hired a ‘council of experts’ to advise her on Scotland’s options in Europe. Yesterday she met EU leaders in Brussels to ask for their support, and said they were ‘sympathetic’ — although France and Spain are not happy about the idea. Meanwhile, in Westminster the SNP asked to become the official opposition to the government, instead of Labour. (The request was rejected.)
All this does not mean that Scotland is guaranteed to leave the UK. There are other possibilities it could explore, including an attempt to block Brexit altogether. But most agree that another independence referendum is the most realistic plan.
This time, it may also be successful. In 2014, 55% of Scots voted against independence. But since last Friday, support has shot up to anywhere between 52% and 59%.
But the UK’s geographic divisions reach even further than Scotland. One party in Northern Ireland has also floated the idea of unifying with the Republic after 56% of its voters opted for Remain. And some have even considered whether London — 60% Remain — should bid for independence too.
Has voting to leave one union caused the end of another?
Yes, say some — the marriage between England and Scotland has always had its ups and downs, but this time England has gone too far. It was warned that Scotland would rather divorce than be forced out of the EU. Now it must live with the consequences.
Don’t be so hasty, caution others. An independent Scotland would face far more challenges now than in 2014: low oil prices make its finances less stable; it could mean border checks with England at Gretna Green; it may even have to adopt the euro. Once Britain’s future after Brexit becomes clearer, Scotland could decide that it is still ‘better together’ after all.
- Which union is the most important to you: the UK or the EU?
- Has the time come for England and Wales to divorce from Scotland and Northern Ireland?
- At the top of this article, we imagined Scotland and Ireland leaping into Europe’s arms. Draw your own cartoon representing how you see the UK after Brexit.
- Read the options for Scotland explained by the Centre for Constitutional Change. (Link under Become An Expert.) Choose one possible route to stay in the EU, and write a paragraph explaining why you think Scotland should, or shouldn’t, take it.
Some People Say...
“Independence is always worth the risk.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t live in Scotland. Why shouldn’t it be independent?
- No reason at all, if that is what its voters want. But, just as leaving the EU has had consequences for Britain and Europe, Scotland’s independence would have consequences at home and in the rest of the UK. Scotland exports twice as many goods to the UK as it does to the rest of the world, for example — that trading relationship would have to be negotiated formally, and could affect both economies.
- When might a second referendum happen?
- Another referendum would probably not happen for another couple of years, although yesterday the bank JP Morgan said it expected Scotland to vote for independence by 2019. However, before it could even call the vote, it first would have to seek permission from politicians in Westminster.
- Leadership contest
- On Tuesday, of 229 Labour MPs 172 voted ‘no confidence’ in Jeremy Corbyn, 40 supported him. Although the vote was only symbolic, at the time of writing it is expected that he will be challenged to an official leadership contest soon.
- Other possibilities
- Legally, Scotland could also keep the UK’s current membership of the EU, but exclude England and Wales from any EU laws. However, this would be extremely difficult in practice.
- 52% and 59%
- From polls by The Sunday Times and The Sunday Post respectively.
- Northern Ireland
- If Northern Ireland left the EU it could mean checks at the border with the Republic, in an attempt to control immigration from the EU to the UK. Many fear that this could jeopardise the peace which has existed in Ireland since 1998.
- Over 170,000 people have signed a petition to London Mayor Sadiq Khan calling for the city’s independence, so that it can stay in the EU — but this is highly unlikely to happen.
- Oil prices
- Down by two-thirds since 2014.
- Gretna Green
- A small Scottish village on the border with England, famous for runaway weddings.