It’s amazing how quickly received wisdom is forged these days. Over the past fortnight it’s become a dinner-party platitude to say that just as ‘the English’ voted out of the union with Europe (Brexit was backed by more than just English people, of course), so the Scots have every right to opt out of their union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Brexiteers absconded from one union, so why shouldn’t Scots abscond from another, goes the simplistic cry. ‘Brexit was a vote for independence… you can’t begrudge Scots the same’, says one columnist.
The argument is that if you backed Brexit, then you haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing Nicola Sturgeon’s latest stab at Scottish independence. They’re the same thing, innit? ‘No one involved in Brexit, or who supported Brexit, can make any argument against Scottish independence except emotional ones’, says a writer for the Spectator.
Actually, the opposite is the case. Brexiteers are precisely the right people to put the case against Scottish independence. Because the argument against Scottish independence is the same as the argument for Brexit. Namely that people should not shy away from democracy, with all the debate and disagreement and difficulties it involves, but rather should embrace it. That instead of hiding from our responsibility to engage in national public life, or handing that responsibility over to ‘expert’ external bodies who will do decision-making on our behalf, we should accept this responsibility, and cherish it. Where Brexit represented a brave reclaiming of the institution of democracy, Scottish independence is driven by a sense of exhaustion with it, and by a rather elitist urge to opt out of it.
To many observers, Brexit and Sturgeon’s campaign for Scottish independence are the same thing: attempts to rupture longstanding unions. (Very longstanding in the case of the UK: 310 years. Not so much in the case of the EU: 24 years.) But the bigger, more important question is surely why these unions are being called into question.
In the case of Brexit, it was pretty clear. Ignore the elitist media smears about Brexit being a case of ‘English people’ wanting to kick out immigrants or create Farageland or just behaving really stupidly. In the real world, Brexit was backed by a majority of Welsh people too, and by hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland (1,018,332 people in Scotland; 349,442 in Northern Ireland), and polls consistently show that huge numbers of Brexiteers think EU migrants should be allowed to stay in Britain post-Brexit. Racist? Nope. As to Brexiteers’ alleged bovine instinct to create a UKIP dystopia: the slow-motion collapse of UKIP to a collective national shoulder-shrug should confirm that it wasn’t UKIP wot won Brexit; Brexit was victorious in spite of UKIP, not because of it.