Commonspace columnist Ian Dunn warns leaving the UK post-Brexit will be harder than many think
UNIONISTS say it. Nationalists say it. Hell, even Tony Blair says it. Everyone seems to agree that Britain voting for Brexit would mean Scotland voting for independence, but there’s silence as to just how it would happen.
All signs suggest we’re just six months away from a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. While Scotland focuses on May’s Holyrood election and the inevitable SNP majority that will follow, the rest of the UK will be deciding whether or not to leave the EU.
It will not be a high minded debate. The deciding factor will be whether the English are more afraid of change or immigrants. Normally, you’d put your pay packet on the latter, but the summer will bring another tide of terrified and hungry people fleeing the Syrian Civil war to the door of an increasingly fractured and hostile Europe.
It’s very possible that despite Scotland voting to stay in, England and the UK may vote to leave. Then the fox is in the hen house and the shark is in the duck pond.
Given that, it’s very possible that despite Scotland voting to stay in, England and the UK may vote to leave. Then the fox is in the hen house and the shark is in the duck pond.
There would then be tremendous demand for a second referendum in Scotland. There would also be a majority for independence. If it seems like the English are forcing Scots to do something against their will, there’s a strong majority of independence.
All well and good, but legally it is not within Holyrood’s power to grant a second referendum. That remains reserved to Westminster and its Conservative government. I cannot see they why they’d be willing to grant it.
Having just been removed from the EU, against the instincts of most of the government, they would be exceptionally wary of losing another popular vote. Their own self-interest would demand they stall, predicate and quibble.
David Cameron has said retaining Scotland in the UK is a thousand times more important to him than membership of the EU. Britain is still Britain in or out of the EU. It’s not if Scotland leaves.
Every call of ‘material change’ would be met with the counter of ‘once in a generation, not once every two years’.
So every call of ‘material change’ would be met with the counter of ‘once in a generation, not once every two years’. The British Government would also be engaged in a series of bitter and hostile negotiations with the EU over the terms of its exit.
Those EU leaders who remained would force harsh terms on the UK, to dissuade other countries from trying to leave. As suggested in this fascinating recent ‘wargame’ playing out the consequences of Brexit with retired politicians, the EU would funnel investment to Scotland, and encourage it to leave the UK and major corporations to shift their headquarters from London to Edinburgh. All to undermine the British Government’s position.
If you’re a Scottish Nationalist that may sound wonderful, but being a chewed over bone between two powerful neighbours is rarely a happy position. As thrawn as the Scots are, the English are as stubborn. European interference would only make them dig their heals in and resist any call for a second referendum.
Both the British and Scottish Governments would face tremendous internal and external pressure not to back down. Perhaps the SNP would run its own referendum, unsanctioned by Westminster, who would call it invalid. The words ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ would become common parlance.
Both the British and Scottish Governments would face tremendous internal and external pressure not to back down.
The wilder voices in the English press would start talking about ‘Scottish rebellion’ and the need for its suppression. There would be public protests across Scotland, and no sympathy in England. The chances of chaos and even violence would increase with each passing day.
Still, perhaps the British Government would learn to love the idea of Scottish independence. Maybe they’ll accept the financial punishments of corporate headquarters fleeing north, Maybe they’ll embrace the political humiliation, and take on the chin the disintegration of a union they regard as inviolable.
More likely is a long, angry summer of tension, bitterness and the unknown.
Picture courtesy of Stuart Chalmers