By Glen M.E. Duerr, Guest Blogger
Even as the votes were still being counted in the early morning after the June 23rd Brexit vote in the United Kingdom (UK), former Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) Member of Parliament, Alex Salmond, announced on ITV television—one of the most prominent stations in the UK—that Scotland would likely hold a second independence referendum.
Salmond’s boss, Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, reiterated Salmond’s claim later that day noting that 62 percent of Scots had voted to “Remain” in the European Union (EU), whilst other parts of the UK, notably in England (with the exception of London) provided the votes for the “Leave” campaign to win. Furthermore, Sturgeon noted that the UK that Scottish voters opted to stay within in the 2014 independence referendum was no longer the same union in light of the Brexit vote.
Despite the calls for another referendum, and its popular appeal in the media across the world, there are significant impediments, which could make Scotland’s independence a difficult task. First, in the wake of the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election, the SNP no longer hold a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Of the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), 63 belong to the SNP, so any piece of legislation, if it is to pass, requires support from other MSPs.
Other MSPs are reportedly in favor of Scottish independence—perhaps upwards of another 6 totaling 69 overall—but voting for another independence referendum is another matter. During the 2014 referendum campaign, both Sturgeon and Salmond called the plebiscite a once in a generation vote. Holding another referendum so soon after the first one might cause consternation amongst the electorate, but exiting the EU does constitute a significant change for some.
If the SNP succeeds in planning for another independence referendum, the rules are likely to be different given that outgoing British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was the person responsible for negotiating the terms of the vote with Salmond. Cameron’s successor might well be a more difficult person with whom to work.
Then, when the vote is held, probably sometime towards the end of the decade, it will come at a time when voter fatigue with the SNP will likely be increasing. Regardless of the SNP’s version of events on their governing record, the party has led the Scottish government since 2007, and will likely face some voter fatigue after a decade or so in power. If the second Scottish independence referendum becomes a midterm plebiscite on their governance record, it may be very difficult to obtain the elusive 50 percent plus one vote necessary to gain independence.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, some components of British society are very different. Division is rife right now given that Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London all voted to stay in the EU. Since Wales and the rest of England (excluding London) voted to leave, the ramifications of the Brexit vote will be felt in the years to come. One of the ramifications is that the UK could indeed break apart.
So, on the one hand, Scottish independence is far from a foregone conclusion as noted herein. But, on the other hand, the Brexit vote has delivered the perfect opportunity for the SNP to purport another independence referendum, upon which unexpected outcomes can occur.
Glen M.E. Duerr was born and raised in the UK, and now serves as Assistant Professor of International Studies at Cedarville University. He is author of Secessionism and the European Union: The Future of Flanders, Scotland, and Catalonia, which was published in late 2015.