Head to Head: Scottish Independence Referendum

Following the EU referendum in 2016, in which Scotland voted to Remain, SNP leader Nichola Sturgeon stated that a second independence referendum was “highly likely”. More recently, the party revealed they could support a second referendum on Brexit providing it was tied to another vote on Scottish independence.

So, what are the arguments for and against a second referendum on Scottish independence?

For a Second Referendum- Campaign Agent Sam Jacobsen

There are two major reasons why Scotland should have a new referendum over whether to become independent from the United Kingdom: our impending exit from the European Union, and the mandate handed to the Scottish National Party (SNP) by its absolute dominance in recent elections.

It’s true that the last independence vote was only four years ago. As Brexiteers constantly remind us, it’s not fair to simply rerun referendums until those in power get the result they want. However, a lot has changed since September 2014. Brexit represents a major constitutional change for the United Kingdom: something that will change the very fabric of the country, the way it is run, and its role within the international community. There is no way the Scottish people could have foreseen that there was even going to be an EU referendum, let alone one that resulted in us leaving. Furthermore, the Scottish people voted Remain. It’s only fair that they now get a say in whether they stick it out with their fellow Britons, or break off into an independent state with closer ties to Europe.

The other issue Westminster cannot ignore is the Scottish National Party’s unprecedented electoral success since the last independence referendum. Two general elections and a Scottish Parliament election have returned an overwhelming majority of SNP legislators to office. This matters, because the SNP (the clue is in the name) is a nationalist party, that at its very core stands for an independent Scottish state. Every vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s party gives legitimacy to the idea of secession. Admittedly, they lost a few seats at the 2017 general election. But when you’re defending more than 90% of the seats you’re contesting, it’s pretty much impossible to go anywhere but down. If there really is no appetite for independence in Scotland, surely the SNP should have been obliterated in both Westminster and Holyrood?

There is clearly enthusiastic popular support for a second vote, as shown by a mighty demonstration in Edinburgh earlier this month. We have seen in Catalonia the devastating consequences of states seeking to suppress peaceful calls for self-determination. If post-Brexit Britain is to be the virtuous, democratic paradise we are promised, we cannot begin by forcing people to be part of it.

Finally, if you believe that referendums are a good way to settle important debates, then why not have another one? If staying inside Britain truly is the will of the Scottish people, then unionists everywhere will have nothing to fear from a second vote.

Against a Second Referendum- Campaign Agent Joe Monk 

The Brexit referendum campaign generated much division within the UK. Significantly, it was seen to exacerbate the north-south divide and also relations north of the border. 

Despite the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, it is a nation part of the UK and has been instrumental to the maintenance of economic recovery since the Global financial crash. There’s the claim that Brexit is creating a constitutional crisis by taking Scotland out of the EU against its will. However, Scotland isn’t a sovereign nation in its own right, it is part of a union. Take London, who also voted significantly for remain. The 3.7 million who voted remain in London equated to 59.9%; in comparison with the 2.6 million who voted in Scotland, 62% voted to remain. Its population is higher than Scotland and has more to lose from leaving the European Union. Does this mean London should receive more devolved rights and become its own sovereign nation? It can’t because of its geographical location within the UK. This is the same with Scotland. If Scotland was to have another independence referendum, and the result was `yes` to independence, then it would create complexities surrounding a hard border, and it could seriously jeopardise trade relations. 

Moreover, having an independence referendum in the midst of the Brexit complexities would be both problematic and impractical. Sturgeon, despite being positive in her speech at the SNP conference, has a tough compromise, along with that of Theresa May. Does she try to stop Brexit by voting down the government along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, which removes the motive for becoming an independent nation, or does she try to delay the democratic will of the people, and cause further chaos by trying to break up, in Theresa May’s words, “our precious union”. The paradox here is startling and it makes no sense for there to be another independence referendum. 

It’s a double whammy for advocates of a break up of the UK. Either way, the SNP would be going against the will of the people. In theory, in the name of Scotland’s interests to become a sovereign nation, she won’t vote down the deal May returns with, as it removes impetus for an independence referendum. However, it could be argued that the only way to generate momentum for having a referendum is to hope that a `no deal` scenario arises, thus the SNP would be willing to put the rest of the UK on the brinks of a ‘no deal’, having to rely on WTO rules, so that the self-interests of the SNP can prevail. Is all of this worth it for a referendum where those propelling a `yes` vote lost 55%-45%, more than the Brexit outcome? 

Sources and Further Reading

Image: Lawrence OP @flickr

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