Why is this happening?
“Because of Brexit” is far too simplistic an understanding.
UK Parties lay out a “Manifesto” before each election. These are considered to be far, far more important than American party platforms. Manifesto Commitments are taken extremely seriously by UK parties.
In their most recent manifesto, the Scottish National Party, headed by Nicola Sturgeon, made the following statement:
We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.
By region, Scotland voted unanimously to remain within the EU. Scotland voted overwhelmingly, 62% to 38%, to remain within the EU.
The SNP, champions of Social Democracy and EU membership, have seen yet another spike in membership and polling since Brexit.
On the UK level, there are only three Scottish elected officials who aren’t SNP members. One Labour, one Lib Dem, and one Conservative. Only one of those Scottish MPs, David Mundell, voted for Article 50.
The SNP forms a minority government in Scotland, and works hand-in-hand with another pro-independence party, The Scottish Green Party, to carry forward their programs. The Greens have been able to regularly receive concessions, and while the two parties are loathe to enter into any official coalition, they’ve been able to have a positive working relationship. In the Scottish Parliament there is a clear majority for independence.
By every estimate, the settled will of the Scottish people is that the SNP, tempered very slightly by the Greens, are the preferred government of the people of Scotland, and have the right to speak for Scotland.
Didn’t Scotland just have an Independence Referendum? Why would the result be any different this time?
At the end of the previous independence referendum, unionist parties made a number of promises. One was “The Vow,” and the other was that Scotland would have a secure place in the EU.
From the official No campaign twitter account in 2014:
Scotland was promised that a no vote would guarantee their permanent membership of the EU. Like the “Vow” made to the Scottish People, this turned out to be a lie.
“The Vow” was a document agreed to by David Cameron (Con), Prime minister; Nick Clegg (LibDem), Deputy Prime Minister; and Ed Miliband (Lab), Leader of the Opposition. It was published in The Daily Record, a tabloid paper once loyal to the defunct Unionist party, but which recently has been loyal to Labour.
It evolved into the Smith commission, which laid out new powers the Scottish Parliament ought to have. After months of work, it submitted a report to parliament. Its recommendations were mostly ignored. Both commons and the lords gutted the document, and gave the Scots a few paltry concessions. According to a YouGov poll taken after the gutted legislation came into force, only 9% of Scots believed the vow had been kept. [PDF]
On Sept 19th, 2014, I sat next to an elderly woman on a train from Edinburgh to London. I was heading down to visit family. She had been for yes, as had her husband, even though their natural inclination was to vote for the Union. She said simply that she’d voted yes because their children and grandchildren had asked them to. They didn’t have many years left, but their family would, and deserved a chance to build the kind of society they want.
She was not emotional about the vote at all, which contrasted very sharply with many folks who had come out for yes, and were absolutely devastated.
I won’t forget one of the things she said to me.
“We won’t be around forever. This is a temporary reprieve for Britain. If they keep their promises, perhaps they can win over the young. But if it was all lies, the Union is over, and it’s just a matter of time.”
Now that the UK is leaving the EU, absolutely every single promise made to Scots during the 2014 referendum has been broken. Even further, promises made to the Scottish People by the current Conservative government over Brexit have also been Broken. Theresa May made a commitment to a “UK-Wide” Brexit deal, and made commitments to work with the devolved governments.
The chief Brexit negotiator appointed by the Scottish government was informed about the date of Article 50 being triggered from the media. The absolute contempt with which Theresa May’s government has treated the devolved administrations has been noted in all three countries.
To that end, It’s probably a good thing that Northern Ireland has been thrown into political chaos by a unionist political scandal involving cash handouts to their friends and political allies. Anger at unionists in Stormont is normal. Anger at mistreatment from London is potentially deadly.
If you care at all for the UK, you should support Scottish Independence.
As Americans, the United Kingdom is one of our most important allies. With Brexit, there’s a worry that further destabilization would be terrible for our ally. But there’s two problems with that thinking. Brexit is a direct result of Scotland failing to win its referendum, and a UK with Scotland as a constituent part will never be a stable country again.
On September 19th, 2014, David Cameron took a victory lap. Instead of outlining the ways in which his government would enact the vow — as he had no intention of keeping those promises — he spoke of supporting England’s voice. England, which runs the UK and has always gotten the government it voted for, was apparently harmed by the existence in parliament of representatives from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. They deserved their own private parliament. He laid out a doctrine of “English Votes for English Laws” designed to relegate Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs to second-class status.
He began stoking the fires of English Nationalism. In the 2015 general election, Cameron’s party released multiple billboards accusing Labour of being in the Scottish National Party’s pocket, or of greedy Scots coming for English cash.
In John Harris’ Anywhere but Westminster Series covering the 2015 referendum, he was surprised that English People in the midlands were all talking about Scotland. “I think Westminster should have an influence on Scotland, I don’t think Scotland should have an influence on Westminster,” one woman told him, while others repeated fantastical lies about Scots being given “free stuff” by their government. Since Brexit, that ill will has only worsened.
Not since 1707 have these divisions been more apparent. Scotland has long been pulling away from the idea of Britishness, but now the English are doing the same. The UK is being torn apart by the two largest member nations, who are beginning to equally desire independence from each other.
The result was Brexit, which was seen by many as an English Independence Referendum.
This idea that there are feelings of enmity between Scots and English has long been mostly a joke. It’s Boston/NYC rivalry. It’s for sports and for humor, but it’s not real. At least, it hasn’t been.
On this Monday’s edition of the BBC show “Question Time” where audience members are able to ask questions of politicians, an Englishman said that he thought Scotland’s renewed push for independence was “Blackmail.” That Scotland was holding England hostage over Brexit. And that’s a lot kinder than the sort of racist profanity being spewed by popular UK youtubers on the subject.
The United Kingdom is now rapidly destabilizing. Sectionalism is tearing the British institution apart. The only thing which could calm the various populations is a material change in the structure of the UK.
Without that change, conditions will only worsen.
What is the UK government’s reaction?
Theresa May has said that her government will reject this call for independence, but that she isn’t opposed to a vote in general, just that one will have to beheld after Brexit negotiations are completed.
This is basically what the SNP has said they want though, and they argue that in order for a referendum to take place in that time frame, legislation needs to be put in place immediately. So it’s not clear what the UK government will actually do in the long term over independence.
One of the options available to the SNP is to dissolve the Scottish Parliament and hold a snap election, that could be a single issue election over the right to hold and independence referendum.
Furthermore, a unilateral declaration of independence is on the table, and support for it could be achieved via that same snap-election method.
That is not what anyone wants, but if the Scottish people are denied the right to vote for independence, and are forced to vote in a de-facto (rather than de-jure) referendum, a UDI becomes a distinct possibility.
It should be clear that this is not the preferred option for anyone in Scotland. They would rather have a legitimate, recognized referendum. The EU has noticed this as well.
What is the EU Reaction?
This is where things get rather more difficult for the British government, and the Scots both.
You see, the EU has taken note of current divisions within the United Kingdom, and EU leaders have made a great many statements in support of Scottish independence.
The chief EU Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, has said that Scotland would have automatic entry. That may or may not be true.
Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP, the largest political bloc in the EU Parliament, has been using Scotland and NI as a cudgel against may for months. He’s said that the EU Parliament will be a “very difficult partner” in the Brexit talks, he’s backed up Verhofstadt’s claim that Scotland can remain in the EU, and he’s mocked Theresa May over her inability to unite the UK over her Brexit decisions. He’s also a member of Merkel’s CDU party.
As for the opposition party in Germany, they also agree that Scotland could easily become an EU member. In fact, members of both major German political parties have expressed a unanimous desire to fast-track Scottish EU membership.
Diana Hübner, Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs, wrote today for SCER that:
On our, the European Union side, we are committed to spare no efforts to protect first and foremost the citizens, both those of UK and those of the remaining twenty seven member states of the Union. The European Union is the Union of citizens. This is in the Treaties. We have also taken note of the fact that UK citizens voted differently in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also in Gibraltar, making it clear that the majority of them would wish to remain in the Union. It is difficult to imagine that those differences could be ignored and discarded in the process of Brexit. In the European Parliament, we represent all citizens of the European Union and will act throughout the whole process leading to the UK’s withdrawal to protect their interests.
It is only in the British press that wide-ranging, international support for Scottish EU entry is questioned, usually citing the Spanish.
The Spanish are in a difficult position, and are now walking a dangerous tight rope. They’ve said that they wouldn’t veto Scottish membership, but wouldn’t want Scotland to have automatic EU membership. They’re mostly worried about Catolonia, and have tended to take the line that Catalonia is totally different from Scotland and everyone needs to stop asking them, please. Most of their signals seem to be about economics. Which is understandable considering that they’re a basket case, stability wise.
But the Spanish alone are the only ones in grand opposition to Scottish independence. And even then, only conditionally. That’s probably because Catalonia just elected some hardliners on their own independence, and tensions are high as a result.
Even the mostly anti-Scottish-independence politico.eu has been forced to agree that
To judge by the views of senior MPs and government officials in Madrid interviewed for this article, neither U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May nor Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is likely to be entirely happy — or disappointed — with the noises coming from the Spanish capital.
Spain is the only nation making any sort of Anti-Scotland noise from within the EU. The rest, including countries which do not normally see eye to eye, such as Germany, Finland, and Poland, have been essentially unanimous for their support of Scotland within the EU.
That led two academics at the University of Edinburgh to suggest that the likely outcome here is a lengthy wait for Scotland to officially join the EU — but that during that wait, Scotland would easily enter the EFTA along with Norway, Swizerland, Iceland, and Luxembourg, giving them full access to European markets.
A Scotland that has lost rights to the EU marketplace is also a Scotland that has lost it’s responsibilities to the European Union. This would block Spanish fishermen from accessing Scottish waters, as neither Norway nor Iceland are members of the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU, and neither Swizerland nor Luxembourg have coasts, so the policy is irrelevant to them.
This will gut the Spanish fishing industry which currently depends on that access for their fishing fleets. The continental shelf under the north sea is one of the richest fishing ecologies on the planet, where the Spanish coast and areas around the canaries drop very quickly into deep-sea. There’s an ecology there, but not one that can be exploited by large-scale fishing.
Spain, as the noisiest wheel here, has a number of worries. Loss of access to fisheries, loss of its territorial cohesiveness, loss of Catalonia and the Basque country, and then further economic instability that could throw an already weak economy back into total chaos. It really should not be surprised that the Spanish are not best pleased by the current situation.
But at the end of the day, the Spanish will have to decide whether to be practical, or to engage in activities which would do their own country a great deal of harm. Judging from Trump and Brexit, I’m not sure practicality is a given. But perhaps the Spanish can buck the trend of pointless self-destruction.
What if Scotland holds a referendum, and loses?
People who have been paying attention to the past few centuries of Scottish history will note that the movement for Scottish Independence functions sort of like Godzilla. It can’t be created or destroyed, simply woken or put temporarily to sleep. The history of Scotland within the British Union is a tumultuous history of near-constant agitation for independence or autonomy. Forcibly transporting rebels and Gaels to Australia and the Americas, while helping Scotland bloom economically with the spoils of empire was a temporary salve that held the union together.
As the Empire started to come apart, the beast woke again, and from the home rule movement of the 1900s onward, there has been constant and growing support for autonomy or independence for Scotland. From the Jacobite rebellions, to the radical war, to home rule, to the battle of the braes and red Clydesdale, to the national covenant, to devolution and the claim of right, and now to the modern independence movement, there has been a long and unending series of attempts to gain real and meaningful autonomy for the people of Scotland.
A single vote might temporarily dampen enthusiasm, but anyone who thinks the movement will disappear doesn’t understand the history of Scotland or the mood of the Scottish people today.
There’s no doubt that another referendum defeat would be emotionally devastating to the morale of the Scottish Independence movement. But it likely wouldn’t be much of a political blow. There is still today no credible opposition to the SNP in Scotland.
Due to dishonesty during the referendum, over the vow, during the EU ref (and the fact that the EU ref was held at all despite promises otherwise), and also due to the conservatives’ ill treatment of Scotland in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, there is no party but the SNP which the Scottish people generally trust. Nearly every other party has been relegated to fringe party status, with the Conservatives becoming the de-facto unionist party. Labour still maintains the support of their elderly former-union members, who are now generally pensioners. But that generation is dying off. Their Children overwhelmingly support independence and the SNP.
This is despite some serious competency problems among the SNP, which has grown too quickly as a political party, and has ended up being the dog which caught the car. On Education and the NHS, the SNP have made some pretty significant mistakes. To be fair to them, their capacity to do something about it with very limited funding powers and austerity madness being handed down from May’s government in Westminster is fairly limited.
Any mistake the SNP makes can be hand waved away by pointing to Westminster and saying “London is the problem, we don’t have the capacity to fix this problem.” And while politically convenient, the SNP isn’t wrong. The Tories are cutting their budgets deep into the bone. This week, they’re trying to cut Personal Independence Payments, PIP, which basically keep disabled people from starving, and help them access equipment the NHS can’t or won’t pay for. A cut to PIP will see a great number of disabled Britons starve to death. We know this, because disabled or chronically ill Britons have already been starving to death under the current government’s cuts.
Outside of their hard-core supporters, which to be fair represent about 1.5 million of Scotland’s 5 million people, the SNP isn’t really liked. They’re seen as the only viable option. Even some of those hard-core supporters are deeply frustrated with their own party, and have told me as much in conversations I’ve had with them. Including a few elected members of the SNP.
Labour is dead in Scotland for the same reason that the Liberal Democrats are dead in Scotland. Labour worked hand-in-hand with the Tories during the Independence Campaign. The Liberal Democrats agreed to work with the Tories in government. Neither party will be forgiven by the Scottish electorate for generations. Labour is in the odd position of having every statement made by Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale countermanded by an opposing statement from Jeremy Corbyn. It’s become a running joke in Scotland.
A few weeks ago, Kezia announced that Scottish Labour would oppose an independence referendum during a debate on the floor of the Scottish Parliament. That night, Jeremy Corbyn said to the press that he supported the right of the Scottish people to hold a referendum.
In response, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, tweeted:
Labour is a mess.
The Lib Dems are now a fringe party, and are not particularly well trusted UK-wide, but especially not in Scotland. The Tories are distrusted, but have become the voice of Scottish Unionism in a way that will make their mere existence a kiss of death to the other unionist parties. Every time the Tories end up on the same side as the Liberal Democrats or Labour, they’ll all end up being painted with the same Unionist brush.
In the rest of the UK, the English are so frustrated with Scotland that the Tories will be able to permanently guarantee their government in England. There’s a state of political equilibrium here. By playing the Scottish electorate against the Tories, the SNP now have functionally permanent establishment in Scotland. But by playing the English electorate off against Scotland in general, the Tories have achieved the same in England. If Labour or the Lib Dems work with the Tories in Scotland, they’re dead. If they work with the SNP on a UK-wide basis, they’re dead.
So what happens if Scotland votes no to a second independence referendum?
The fight will go on, forever, until Scotland achieves its independence. The English will grow ever more tired of the fight and ever more resentful of the Scots. The Scots will grow ever more frustrated with Westminster. The British Union will continue to be torn apart.
For the sake of everyone in those islands, this fight needs to end. But the only way it can possibly end is with an independent Scotland. Looking at the history and politics, nothing else is a realistic solution.
The United Kingdom is as dead as the empire it once ruled. All we’re debating now is whether something sustainable will be allowed to rise from the ashes.