Jason Weereawardena: 14/03/17
Presently, the country is focused on the UK’s leave from the EU, but in a few months after article 50 has been triggered, more attention will shift to Scotland’s potential exit from the UK. Nicola Sturgeon (the head of the Scottish national party) has announced her plan for a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK in late 2018 or early 2019, before the UK formerly withdraws from the European Union.
The first referendum was held on September 18th 2014, with the Scots voting to stay in the UK with a comfortable 55-45% split of the vote. However, the political climate then was very different from what it is now. While there was speculation of the EU referendum before and during the Scottish referendum, leaving the EU did not seem to be a legitimate threat at the time and many voted in the first referendum with a confidence that Scotland would stay in the European Union. Now that the UK is leaving with a hard Brexit, support for the SNP and a second referendum has soared.
Immediately after Brexit, the polls for a second referendum had 55% voting yes and only 45% voting no, suggesting that if a second referendum was held, it was very likely that Scotland would withdraw from the UK. After the political fires have died down, currently the polls have Scots wanting to remain in the union with a 52-48% split. This is not a comfortable margin for either side though and in a second referendum, turnout would be everything with such a close election.
There was a lot of debate after Nicola Sturgeon announced her plan for a second referendum including whether she actually had the mandate to call for one. The SNP has said: “The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum...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.” Seeing Scotland voted by a 62-38% margin to remain in the EU, it is possible that Nicola Sturgeon is able to call for a second referendum for Scotland.
If Scotland does vote “yes” to leave the UK, another lengthy debate would take place (just like in the 2014 referendum) around “who gets what” in a divorce between the UK and Scotland. A big issue is the “oil rich” North Sea which the UK currently has ownership over, Scotland may find it hard to find oil (although they may buy oil from its partners in the EU). It could be that Scotland may potentially seize some of the oil for itself via gunboat diplomacy but this is unlikely given the size of the UK’s army in comparison the Scottish army. Another problem will be currency: will Scotland retain the right to use the British sterling or will they have to adopt the euro?
There are many uncertainties ahead as the UK heads for both a hard Brexit and a second Scottish referendum; we will just have to wait and see what the future holds, whether it be a divided or united Britain.