Beautiful country, Scotland. Loads of wide open spaces, thanks to having just one-sixth as many people per square mile as England. Loads of mountains, islands and greenery. The cities aren’t bad, either. The capital, Edinburgh, has a ruddy great castle in the middle of it. How cool is that? There have been plenty of smart Scots too, from Enlightenment figures like Adam Smith and David Hume, to inventors and scientists like John Logie Baird and Alexander Fleming; and modern research breakthroughs, like those at Roslin Institute which gave us Dolly the Sheep. Moreover, unlike in London, you don’t need to take out a mortgage to buy a drink in Glasgow or Edinburgh. I’ve voted with my feet and moved back.
Today, the big debate in my adopted homeland is the question of independence from the rest of the UK, despite there having been a referendum on the matter less than three years ago which produced a clear majority (55 per cent) for remaining, on a record-breaking turnout of 84.5 per cent. Prior to that vote, leading nationalist politicians like the former first minister, Alex Salmond, and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, were calling the referendum a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to achieve independence. Much too soon, they seem to be putting the question to the people again.
Of course, there has been a ‘material change’: the UK-wide vote to leave the European Union last June. While Britain as a whole voted 52 per cent to leave, there was a clear majority in Scotland in favour of staying: 62 per cent of Scots backed continued membership. As a result, nationalists are calling for another vote, claiming that internationalist Scotland is being dragged out of the EU by insular England and Wales.
An obvious riposte is that one consequence of the referendum on independence in 2014 is that Scotland agreed to accept the result of UK-wide votes, whether it be general elections or referendums. Despite an overwhelming majority of Scots voting to stay in the EU, the political framework confirmed by the vote in 2014 means the result should be accepted. The argument put forward by the Scottish National Party (SNP) now is that Scotland should get a chance to leave the UK and remain part of the EU. But it is far from certain that the EU would allow Scotland to stay. Other European countries have their own problems with separatist movements, particularly Spain, where Catalonians and Basques have very active movements for independence. Allowing Scotland to stay or to have some kind of special deal after Brexit would only embolden such movements.
Even if Scotland were allowed, in principle, to stay in the EU, Scots would then be faced with a choice between two unions: the European Union and the United Kingdom. On what basis would Scots decide? If the question were down to economics, it is a no-brainer: the economic ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK are far greater than between Scotland and the EU. According to the Scottish government’s own figures, Scotland has exports worth £50 billion to the rest of the UK, but just £12 billion to the EU. Scotland has the benefit of a relatively strong shared currency, too.