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Confusion reigns as Brexit looms large

Confusion reigns as Brexit looms large
Just two days ahead of the crucial Brexit referendum, the USA has floated a rumour that a vote to leave the European Union may lead to a second Scottish independence referendum and increase instability in the United Kingdom. 

Incidentally, the first person to come out with this revelation has been the Britain Prime Minister David Cameron. In a television interview, Cameron underlined the risk of Scotland leaving the UK after Brexit and also cautioned the Britons that there was a “deeply patriotic” case for the UK remaining intact and within the EU. 

He reminded voters that a vote to leave the EU may lead to a second Scottish independence referendum. Incidentally, Cameron’s remarks contradicted his assertion last year that there was no case for a further Scottish referendum, but also raised a crucial question for Scottish voters: what will the vote on 23 June mean for their future?

The people in Scotland would vote for independence in case the UK was forced to leave the European Union against Scots’ will. The ICM survey for Scotland has revealed that if the UK voted for Brexit then in that case 52 percent of Scots would support a new referendum on breaking away from the UK and 53 percent would vote to leave.

However, the political situation prevailing at the ground makes it clear that Britain’s departure from the European Union would not necessarily increase support for Scottish independence. The Scottish people are also not too happy with the prospect of a fresh referendum. Nevertheless, there is a feeling that the Britons must adopt a pragmatic approach towards the Brexit. Interestingly, the recent surveys have shown that majority of Scots back the Remain campaign, with the latest Kantar TNS poll putting support at 71 percent, with 29 percent wanting Brexit.

In fact, the situation is being complicated by the leadership of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). Their position owes more to the personal equations with the leaders of Tory or Labour parties. In the last parliamentary elections, the SNP has outwitted Labour in the Scotland. In fact, based on this the detractors of Jeremy Corbyn had questioned his leadership quality.

It is also being rumoured that the EU might be more welcoming to a Scotland seeking membership after Brexit. Then Scotland would replace the UK. But the political sources outright reject any such possibility. 

They are hopeful that the situation would take some positive turn just ahead of the final poll. Little doubt the prospect of Scottish independence will add to the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit would compound a headache for politicians and might spark a resurgence of similar efforts in other regions.

In an apparent contradiction of SNP, claims that the forthcoming referendum could take Scotland out of the EU against its will, the study also found that 60 percent of Scots can be classed as Eurosceptic, with only one-fifth happy to “leave things as they are”.

 The Scottish people have different views. They by and large hold the view that powers of EU should be reduced. Based on the annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey carried out in January this year, around 43 percent of respondents want the EU’s powers reduced.

The only worry of the Scottish people has been in case they support Brexit, the UK will start dictating terms in the future and Scotland will be in a disadvantageous situation. Scotland intends to maintain its own independence. True enough, the pro-EU forces and political parties have been giving too much publicity to this contradiction. 

Questions about Scotland’s economic security and how the country would manage the competing and challenging demands of the EU and the UK are also being raised. Apprehensions are also being expressed that it would threaten to plunge the Scottish National party’s government in Edinburgh into crisis.

With conventional wisdom still in a state of confusion, there is no need to jump to conclusions. Backroom political strategists are at work to foil any such move. It is worth recalling that back in 1975, when the UK last voted on Europe, Scots were pro-EU by 58 percent to 42 percent; but the English actually voted pro-EU by a much larger margin of 69 percent to 31 percent, and only two out of the 68 UK counties - Shetland and the Western Isles voted no.

The possibility of another political fight so soon after the referendum could be a nightmare scenario for whichever Westminster politicians were left in charge after the June 23 vote. Many regions of the UK are more pro-Europe than the nation as a whole, partly because they disproportionately benefit from schemes such as the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.

In case the UK opts for Brexit, the Scottish Parliament could become more powerful. The campaign to leave the EU is seen very much as a Conservative Party project, and in Scotland there are an awful lot of people who will say “Well, if the Tories want this, I don't." It is important to note that in the 1980s, the Scottish National Party, which had a history of opposing the EU membership, changed too.

Interestingly some of the politicians hold the view that Scotland should be independent but at the same time are not ready to choose another referendum [on independence] on the basis that the rest of the UK had chosen to do something damaging for the rest of the UK. 

In fact, Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University said the situation was "difficult enough" in 2014 when the Scottish independence referendum was held. “But the idea of trying to sell the message of Scottish independence in the context of Brexit would be very, very difficult".

 A majority of Scots voted against independence in 2014 but the SNP has since enjoyed a huge surge in popularity and won all but three of Scotland's Westminster seats in the last general election
Scotland has the right to demand its independence after the Brexit. 

But the moot question is: Would the UK Government give Scotland another independence referendum after a Brexit vote? The possibilities are farfetched. The SNP must win a mandate at the 2020 general election or the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. There is a rumour that Scotland may join the EU. But would an independent Scotland be allowed to join the EU? 

One issue which is receiving less attention is the future of the United Kingdom. The fact remains if the United Kingdom votes to leave the EU, it may not stay united for very long. The UK is made up of four "countries", England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  

IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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