The prospects for Scottish independence amidst the Brexit crisis
Writing: Cambeul Walker
Illustration: Hazel Laing
What is the process for removing our EU citizenship? Turns out it was voting ‘No’. Scotland voted, resoundingly, to remain a member of the European Union in 2016. England and Wales did the opposite. The Scottish Parliament, located just down the road at Holyrood, has spoken out in favour of the single market. Westminster, 400 miles away in London, has again done the opposite, and may very well vote to leave with no deal at all - something else which Holyrood has rejected in no unclear terms. Despite all of the calls to ‘take back control’ from Brussels, Brexit may do nothing more than break up the very union that it claims it is protecting. The ‘No’ campaign, which was victorious in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, promised many things to the people of Scotland. It promised vast new powers for the Scottish Parliament. It promised to protect Scotland’s place in the EU. It promised to take Scotland seriously - after all, it had just nearly voted to leave them high and dry.
These ‘vast’ new powers for Holyrood were implemented in the Scotland Act 2016. The powers that this act extended were essentially worthless, and the supposed entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament, along with its place in the UK’s constitutional settlement is, in a legal sense, worth less than the paper it is printed on. Before Brexit, the fact that the 2016 Act did not deliver what it promised may have gone unnoticed by most in Scotland. The fact that Scotland is often ignored by Westminster may have been overlooked as semantics. Brexit and its subsequent fallout however, has not allowed for lack of notice: it has forced these issues to the forefront of British politics. Although there is always talk of the UK being a ‘family of nations’, the EU referendum highlighted that this is not the case. If the UK was truly viewed in this way, then surely it would not hold a referendum that proposes seismic constitutional changes without having some sort of qualified majority rule to protect its constituent parts - a rule modeled off how the EU currently operates, for example. The referendum bundled in Scotland as a region, like East Anglia or Kent; when the result of the EU referendum was to leave, even though Scotland had voted to remain, Westminster was forced to outwardly admit that Scotland is nothing more than a part of the UK, not a partner. In fact, the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP, said just this in Parliament.
This is a key division. 62% of people in Scotland view themselves as Scottish, with no mention of a British identity, according to the 2011 census. Although this statistic does not correlate directly with views on independence, it does speak strongly to national identity. Scotland, for most purposes, sees itself as a country, not a county. It is obvious now with Brexit that Westminster does not share this point of view. It is not only the ‘one country’ attitude of Westminster that has strengthened calls for independence; it’s the absolute commitment from the UK Government to have a no-nuance Brexit that’s adding fuel to the independence fire. Granted, this hardline approach to negotiation and governance is having negative effects across the whole of the UK, but nowhere is it more obvious than in Scotland. Scotland has a diminishing population, which relies heavily on inward migration and ‘new Scots’. This Scotland-specific consideration is being completely ignored by Westminster. The Scottish Government has voiced support for Scotland remaining in the single market post Brexit, despite leaving the EU. It’s hard to find much evidence of Westminster really taking this into consideration. No better evidence exists than the fact that Scotland, despite its many specific needs that differ from the rest of the UK, was not mentioned even once in the Prime Minister’s deal.
Fundamentally, Brexit shows the clear ideological difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Although much of the divide comes from a simple difference in point of view, the way we view the world defines the path we travel down. It is clear now more than ever that Scotland views itself as at least a partner in a union of nations, if not a full nation in its own right, a view that the rest of the UK does not share. Independence is not a call to be something special, or an implication that one nation is better than another, it is simply a call to be what every other nation in the world is: in charge of its own destiny.