In 2014, Scotland held a referendum on whether to remain within the United Kingdom–the alternative was to become an independent state. It failed by almost an 11-point margin. But with Britain considering exiting the European Union, Scottish independence is a hot topic again.
The UK leaving the European Union–neologistically termed “Brexit”–is a curious debacle. There are few advantages to doing so, and even though Prime Minister David Cameron is against a Brexit, his own party is split on the matter. My impression of the situation is that the mentality behind it is similar to the sort of obstructionism and fantasism popular among American conservatives: bizarre, dangerous policies are promoted as solutions by parties and politicians that are either cynically employing those ideological tactics in order to garner votes–believing full well that they will never come to pass–or by genuinely malicious, even racist elements who view ultra-right-wing policies as a means to restore and preserve the dominance of white people (and white men in particular). Indeed, the UK has not one, but two pro-Brexit parties: the British National Party, which describes itself as a “Britain first” (presumably, everyone else a distant second, or beyond) party; and UKIP, the UK Independence Party, which is even further to the right–more populist, more xenophobic–than the BNP.
It must be stressed that these parties are relatively fringe in terms of holding government power. The BNP has never held any seats in the British or Scottish Parliaments, and has held only two seats in the European Parliament. UKIP has done better, currently holding 1 seat in the House of Commons, 3 in the House of Lords, and 22 in the European Parliament–more than any other UK party. BNP voters seem to have largely fled to UKIP–an understandable move given BNP’s consistent failure to attain any real power or desired reforms.
The current trends are troubling for those who prefer the UK remain in the EU. Where the status quo had a 10-point lead as recently as January, it is now essentially neck-and-neck.
Scotland is left in a particularly interesting situation here. Scots are generally hostile toward Brexit: about two-thirds support staying in. But they’re also not especially in favor of independence, given the previous referendum. The twist is that, should the UK leave the EU, Scottish independence becomes more likely than not. Indeed, England looks to be the only part of the UK that has a clear majority in support of leaving the EU. Given that the other countries within the UK all prefer to stay in the EU, a Brexit may end up consisting only of England, and ironic that a move meant to strengthen the UK may ultimately break it apart.
There’s no clear evidence that the UK leaving the EU would offer much benefit to UK citizens. Tighter immigration controls and more local self-government are possibilities, but the positives of these are nebulous at best. The UK, like the rest of Western Europe, will have to rely on immigration to survive in the long-term. And while control by “unaccountable EU bureaucrats in Brussels” is a boogeyman commonly invoked against EU membership, in practice the UK is not required to do much that it wouldn’t do in the first place. Many of the measures provided by EU membership are meant to protect workers and families from government abuses and corporate overreaches–sound objectives, from where I’m standing. There’s also the matter of London’s role as a global financial hub, a role that is certainly threatened by a separation of the UK from the rest of Europe.
Of course, I don’t live here and have no real stake in the situation or its outcome. I do think it would be sad if the UK split from the EU, but it may prove to be a boon to Scotland’s long-term prospects. For England, at least, it seems like a case of “be careful what you wish for–you just may get it.”