Scottish and British flags flying in Edinburgh

Brexit: A Less United Kingdom?

As we all attempt to get our heads around the political shock that was a vote to leave the European Union last night, it appears as though not only Europe will be reconsidering their relationship with Westminster.

While England and Wales made the decision to leave the EU by an overwhelming majority, all 32 of Scotland’s regions voted to remain whilst the majority of Northern Irish voters believed that they felt better off remaining in political union with Europe.

Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in more traction for the respective nationalist movements. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has called for a vote for Ireland’s unification, although it is unlikely this will pick up much steam considering the divided political landscape. What is more worrying for the future of the UK, however, is the reaction in Scotland.

Earlier this year, the SNP mentioned in their manifesto that should the UK choose to leave the EU and Scotland’s majority vote to remain, they reserve the right to hold a second independence referendum. With the SNP winning May’s Holyrood election, they were thus granted a mandate to fulfil this.

It came as no surprise this morning when Nicola Sturgeon said that “a second independence referendum must now be on the table, and it is now on the table”. Although there will still be discussions about how this may be implemented before the UK actually leaves the EU, she confirmed that “the required legislation will now be prepared”.

The reaction in Scotland is very different to when a first independence referendum was announced back in 2011. Then, it appeared to be quite clear exactly who would be supporting each side. What’s more, unionists started off with a 2/3rds majority support, only for independence supporters to increase their share of the vote, eventually up to 45%.

The difference here is that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have angered many across the political spectrum in Scotland. Obviously, in the day following a referendum, it is dangerous to try and test the water of the public’s opinion, yet it feels as though there has been a shift of some sort.

Many who considered themselves strong unionist supporters back in 2014 (and I include myself among this group) may now have different feelings. On a personal level, although I would probably still vote to remain in the UK should the independence referendum happen tomorrow, I am certainly not as clear-cut in my views as I was two years ago. There is a high chance that those on the fence in 2014 may now be pushed towards supporting a Yes vote.

Despite this, the SNP’s actions may have only angered other unionist supporters further as it appears as they are going completely against the “once in a generation” guarantee for the last independence referendum. As one person satirically wrote on Twitter, “I know the country may have a problem with teenage pregnancies, but I never realised it was that bad that a generation was only considered to be two years long”…

The simple fact, however, is that any future independence referendum will result in two options: either to choose to remain in union with the United Kingdom, or with the European Union. Which one will Scotland value more, Westminster or Brussels?

Polls carried out over the past two years have showed the numbers supporting independence remaining around the same level. For those wanting a Yes vote, it appears as though a seismic event which compels people to completely change their voting ideology is needed. Will this be the event they were waiting for?

As I said, it is important to approach the next couple of weeks with caution. Emotion is still running high from last night’s shock and it will take time for things to return to normal, if that is even possible now.

However, I think it can be guaranteed now that the SNP will call another independence referendum. This will be the one that can truly be called “once in a generation” because defeat here completely rules out the possibility of independence for the foreseeable future.

In case you haven’t had enough of referendum/election campaigning over the last five years, get ready, because it looks like the finish line remains far out of sight.

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Ruairidh Campbell
Based in the Scottish Borders/Glasgow, Ruairidh has written extensively on everything from rugby to politics with work published in publications including the Scottish Rugby Union's website, Scottish Field Magazine and Edinburgh Rugby's match-day programmes.
Ruairidh Campbell

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