Our “United” Kingdom as it is today was established in 1922. Nearly 100 years after its establishment, I question the security of our union and whether we may reach its centenary at all with regards to Scottish Independence and the Northern Irish ‘hurdle’ over Brexit.
In 2014, Scotland rejected independence in a vote of 55% vs 45%. They voted on the basis that the UK state at the time was secure and economic growth under the Conservative government was stable despite Mr Cameron’s austerity measures. However, circumstance has changed significantly with Brexit and the SNP’s majority in Scotland highlights a demand for independence based upon Brexit, which 62% voted against in 2016. The SNP manifesto of 2015 stated how a demand for a second referendum on independence would take place if the circumstance of Britain changed significantly – Brexit will have this effect. Scotland has a mandate to ask for a referendum, but Theresa May silenced Nicola Sturgeon’s request in 2017 – this does not mean the issue is dead.
Scottish nationalism has been rising for many years and Nicola Sturgeon consistently reflects the Scottish demands for change, reform and independence. Devolved powers in 1997 already give Scotland primary legislative powers, but the appetite for independence has been on the rise as Scotland proves its self-sufficient abilities with its own Scottish Assembly. When the majority of Scots voted for Remain, but found out they would be obliged to leave as part of the UK, it becomes understandable that the SNP would demand such a re-run of the referendum to remove this constitutional obligation of Scots to follow the UK down the blind path of Brexit. But, would a referendum enable independence?
Referendums tend to be advisory and the conservative government would likely attach terms to hold onto our union if Scotland were to supposedly ‘secede’. But no opinion poll since March 2017 has suggested Scots demand independence by any measure – all polls have suggested they would demand to remain by some margins as high as 20%/22% showing that Scots actually would refuse independence if it was handed to them on a plate despite their demands over such a long period. Many Scots feel the fight for independence is over; Scotland lost the vote in 2014 and the same Brexit argument applies – “you already had a vote and this is what you voted for”, so a re-referendum could have no impact and not result in independence, utterly destroying the SNP’s case altogether as after 2 referendums, you cannot legitimately suggest for a 3rd referendum after such a decision.
Northern Ireland has been the centre of many UK troubles over the years and, as a nation, had an extremely tough time in its existence. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 established an end to the Northern Irish troubles with bipartisanship in the Northern Irish Assembly between Sinn Fein and the DUP. The conditions of this agreement however, are severely impacted by Brexit – The European Union establishes a lack of hard borders and enabled borderless communications between NI and ROI which satisfied both parties in the Good Friday deal, but today, Brexit could impose a hard border which does not act in the interests of either party, alternatively it could impose a sea border between UK and NI which would not satisfy the DUP who are currently in a Confidence and Supply deal with the governing Conservative party. Theresa May is trying to negotiate terms for the devolved state of Northern Ireland, but cannot seem to satisfy both parties in changing of the 1998 agreement and we most certainly do not want to see a return to the troubles – The DUP has announced they will vote against the PM’s Brexit deal on December 11th. Northern Ireland is divided between unionists and republicans, but independence would unsettle the nation and most likely cause more trouble than it is worth when secession is not highly demanded in NI, definitely not by unionists.
There is a mandate for a 2nd referendum in Scotland based upon circumstance, but such a 2nd referendum would frustrate pro-EU campaigners who so dearly want a 2nd referendum on the EU membership and there is little demand for such independence in today’s day in age. Northern Ireland is an unbreakable issue with Brexit as it is impossible to satisfy the polarised sides, but secession would be drastic and politically impossible for not only our government but NI unionists. Plaid Cymru claim Scottish nationalism would trigger Welsh nationalism, but with 10% vote share in their own country, this claim can be easily dismissed. Our United Kingdom looks fragile, but still seems to have years left on its clock before we disintegrate. Our centenary in 2022 should be something we celebrate with energy and pride as we sing the national anthem as we drink tea with British biscuits and continue our lives through the battle of Brexit.