By Louis Johnson
The Brexit deadline is looming and as Britain prepares to leave the EU, ‘deal or no deal’, it looks as though our Union is beginning to fracture before Europe’s. Back in 2014, the prospect of Scottish Independence appeared to have been crushed for what Theresa May announced would be “a generation”. Scotland had only narrowly decided to reject independence, with 55% of the population voting to remain part of the Union, but it’s thirst for independence has not subsided. Brexit appears to have stirred the certainty of this outcome.
In the 2016 referendum 62% of Scots voted to remain part of the EU, this is a large majority compared to those that ‘leave’ achieved in England (53.4%) and Wales (52.5%). This disparity of opinion has only enflamed the rhetoric of the SNP (Scottish National Party) who believe that the Westminster system is deeply unfair and represents the interests of England over the rest of the UK. This is a fair diagnosis. Aside from the gulf in opinion between the two nations on Brexit, there is a strong case to argue that Scotland is being subjected to a viciously uneven political system. This has not rebalanced, but worsened, since the 2014 referendum.
Though Scotland’s narrow decision to remain part of the Union in 2014 should have served as a wake-up call highlighting the fragility of our Union, it instead seemed to represent a mandate for the Tory’s aptly named ‘EVEL’ plans (English votes for English laws). This meant that, though SNP MP’s have traditionally abstained, Scottish MP’s could no longer vote on matters which affected just England.
This may not appear to be particularly problematic, but the definition of ‘England only matters’ is vague. According to Parliamentary procedure, the decision on whether a bill is a matter of only English concern, or not, is left to the speaker. Scotland is therefore subject to knock-on effects from English MP’s decisions on matters such as NHS funding and privatisation. Thus, there is no objective definition of what English votes for English laws are. Scotland have arguably found themselves being dragged in the same political direction as Westminster, despite being characteristically more left leaning than the recent Conservative governments. They risk losing a generation of Scottish faith in the Union with Westminster and Holyrood’s visions of our political future looking very different, it appears unlikely our governments will ever get along.
Brexit appears to be a clear obstacle to achieving functional relationship, and the SNP who command Holyrood are seeking to flee the route of isolation on which Westminster has embarked. If Scotland gain independence, they will be leaving behind their closest neighbours in order to remain connected with the rest of Europe. It may appear paradoxical that Scottish nationalists would want to remain part of the EU, yet Scottish nationalism is not based on cultural divisions, rather it seeks a democratic future for its people. Though the Scottish people initially voted to stay tied to the rest of the United Kingdom, there was a much larger majority for wanting to remain within the European Union.
the only ‘war’ that Boris Johnson’s cabinet has waged is one within
The attitude of English MP’s, like Johnson, have only appeared to intensify their favouring of the EU over the UK. It seems that Boris Johnson and his ‘war cabinet’ have continued to frame the EU as an institution at odds with British values. Yet whether or not this is about ‘Britain’ is questionable. There appears to be a clear ignorance of the fact both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Hence, the idea that we are ‘uniting’ around Brexit seems absurd.
Boris Johnson has recently, and quite abhorrently, used the memorial of murdered MP Jo Cox to further capitulate the idea that getting ‘Brexit done’ would unite the nation. Yet new research by Oxford Professor, Danny Dorling, has even suggested that the tipping of the majority in favour of leave in Wales was largely due to the number of retired English people living in Wales. The country voted for Brexit with a majority of just 82,000 people. Yet, 21% (650,000) of the Welsh population were born in England, with nearly a quarter aged over 65. Over 65’s, of course, were twice as likely to vote for leave as under 25’s. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the decision to leave the EU was made along very strenuous fault lines, these being age, and perhaps more politically concerning – region.
English voters were much more likely to vote for Brexit. Despite the clear divisions between England and the rest of the Union (most significantly Scotland), Johnson appears to be going hell for leather with the rhetoric of do or die, this has had clear consequences on the Unitedness of our Kingdom.
Recent polling by Lord Ashcroft indicates that the scales have tipped in favour of Scottish independence. With 46% of Scots supporting independence compared to 45% in opposition. This tipping in favour of independence has occurred since Johnson took over as Prime Minister, a man who, as editor of The Spectator authorised the publication of a poem describing Scots as a ‘verminous race’.
Boris Johnson is promising that by October 31 we will leave the European Union, with or without a deal, whether this is still a political reality is questionable. Yet, recent polling conducted for The Sunday Times say that the majority for Scottish independence is likely to increase in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Boris Johnson’s government is not only risking our economy, they risk losing a generation of Scottish faith in the Union of the United Kingdom.
In a recent visit to Scotland, the attitude towards Johnson North of the border was summed up by booing as he met with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. If that didn’t say enough, by walking a rather reluctant Scottish bull, perhaps in an attempt to appear ‘strong and stable’, he made for a fitting metaphor for how Scotland’s Brexit woes may pan out. The Tory government’s apathy towards the question of the Irish border seems to further capitulates the idea that Brexit is an exercise in English domination of the ‘United’ Kingdom. Refusing to offer an alternative to the backstop, they stand accused of holding the Irish economy to ransom. Along with ignoring the rising support for Scottish independence, they threaten to turn us into the Un-United Kingdom.
To make things worse, though the SNP appear on track to dominate Scottish seats in Parliament, the likelihood of a ‘remain coalition’ is looking low. Despite the second referendum supporting Labour Party’s recent surge in popularity (at the expense of the Conservatives), the number of party’s which will split the remain vote is more than that of the parties of leave. Therefore, it is likely that the combined support of remain/second referendum parties (52%) will be skewed by our electoral system and fail to achieve a majority.
In attempting to break Europe, the only ‘war’ that Boris Johnson’s cabinet has waged is one within. Brexit, for many, was a project which embodied the reconsolidation of British strength as a nation, but it is now proving the contrary. In attempting to break Europe, the only ‘war’ that Boris Johnson’s cabinet has waged is one within, plunging us into a deep domestic and constitutional crisis. Meanwhile, support for the EU across the rest of Europe has risen and the state of our Union has never been so fragile.
Image credit: PA Media