In the autumn of 2014, after over 300 years of union with England, the Scottish government held a referendum to ask the country’s population:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”
45% voted yes, and 55% voted no, and Scotland remained a part of the United Kingdom.
But since then, Brexit occurred and things changed, as many Scots have since expressed that the British government’s post-leave policies are not reflective of Scottish perspective and priorities; a mindset also shared by the left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
The departure of the UK from the European Union was supported by a national majority in the 2016 Brexit referendum, but in Scotland most voted to remain in the bloc.
Disquiet amongst nationalists who feel Scottish voices are going unheard has been stirring for a while, with many declaring the surprise of Brexit now entitles Scotland to a round two referendum, despite both parties agreeing in 2014 that the independence vote would only happen once in each generation.
The debate over Scottish independence reached a critical point last month, when Sturgeon’s government proposed to the UK Supreme Court that a fresh vote should be held in her country next year on October 19, so that Scottish people could express their opinions on their preferred sovereignty.
Two days of court proceedings heard both UK and Scottish governments presenting legal cases both for and against the re-vote, which just six weeks later on Wednesday this week, culminated in a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court to deny Scotland the right to a second referendum and chance to claim independence.
Judgment has been handed down this morning in the case UKSC 2022/0098 – Reference by the Lord Advocate of devolution issues under paragraph 34 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998 https://t.co/CD8VJuOs3R pic.twitter.com/9WXPm8Cfzs
— UK Supreme Court (@UKSupremeCourt) November 23, 2022
Sturgeon has previously publicly acknowledged that any kind of lawful discourse on Scottish independence would first have to be legally authorized by the UK government, but after having her legislation rejected, has now announced she will join the next UK-wide race to become Prime Minister in 2024, campaigning for votes as a proxy for a “de facto” independence referendum.
The Scottish National Party is not happy, much of Scotland’s civil society is not happy, and Sturgeon’s risky play which could derail the next UK general election is a true sign of the divided times we live in. Even the safety of the United Kingdom is no longer exempt from instability.
1/ While disappointed by it I respect ruling of @UKSupremeCourt – it doesn't make law, only interprets it.
A law that doesn't allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership & makes case for Indy
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 23, 2022
“We must and we will find another democratic, lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will. In my view, that can only be an election,” said Sturgeon, “as of today, democracy is what is at stake … It is now about whether or not we even have the basic democratic right to choose our own future.”
Nationalists are also now scrambling to find a legal loophole to legitimize hosting another national independence vote. Meanwhile, widespread protests have broken out across the country and in the major European cities Rome, Munich and Paris.
— tom donald #FBSI (@tomclearwood) November 23, 2022
Patriotic to the core, hundreds have gathered outside Scottish parliament in Edinburgh armed with flags, wooly hats, bagpipes, and a stereo blasting The Proclaimers, in an effort to raise voices on a ruling many of the Scots deem unjustified.
The unfolding landscape of opinion on Scottish independence has clearly once again swelled, thrusting the integrity of Scottish democracy and free will into the spotlight.
Not only are the Scottish government and people claiming their voices are being ignored, but they are questioning whether the UK’s ruling to deny granting referendum permissions to Scots is in fact an overt and unjust denial of democracy.
📺 Crowds cheer as Nicola Sturgeon addresses Scottish independence supporters outside the Parliament following the Supreme Court verdict today pic.twitter.com/YK47nVWiXA
— The National (@ScotNational) November 23, 2022
Why does the UK want to keep Scotland, and why might they want to leave?
Aside from for the sake of sovereignty, solidarity and historical sentiment, the UK is also at risk of losing some of the union’s most lucrative national assets if Scotland decides to divest from the kingdom – let alone national pride and perceived economic stability.
On Wednesday morning after the somewhat rushed Supreme Court’s ruling was announced, coincidentally or not, the value of the British Pound rebounded, rising from $1.07 to $1.19.
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Scotland’s land and sea is rich with natural resources, accounting for a third of the UK’s landmass and half of its territorial waters; clearly an asset worth Westminster’s while in fighting for.
- Home to the UK’s most productive coalfield
- The largest producer of oil in Europe
- The second largest producer of gas in Europe
- An important agricultural hub of fertile land
- Rich with a whole host of mineral deposits in its central belt
- Home to much of the country’s oil and gas reserves
- Home to many of the UK’s important fishing zones
- Responsible for a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind resources
- Responsible for a significant portion of the UK’s drinking water
Dominic Raab even admitted in a session at the House of Commons earlier this year that Scotland’s resources are a large factor in why the United Kingdom is “stronger together.” Most likely getting “stronger” every day as revenue from fossil fuels has exploded after Russian supplies dried up in the geopolitical fallout of the war in Ukraine.
What’s more, Scotland’s strong winds are not only proving cost-effective in the energy crisis at present, but also vital for the worsening climate crisis in the future, as both onshore and offshore wind farms in Scotland are the UK’s biggest source of renewable energy.
— ScottishPower (@ScottishPower) October 25, 2022
But Scotland is tired of being ruled by a political party that its national majority opposes. To clarify, as pro-independence protestors lined Edinburgh’s streets on Wednesday, a small counter-protest took place close enough to show resistance, but far enough away to almost miss nationalists heckling them as “Tory scum.”
In 2019’s national election, of 59 Scottish parliamentary seats, 48 of them were won by the SNP, with the Conservatives achieving only an eighth of this success with just six.
Now that's a pretty sight! https://t.co/aYv0jEDSbw
— Scottish Independence Foundation (@ScotIndepFound) May 17, 2022
The path ahead
Many have reacted to Sturgeon’s “de facto” referendum announcement calling it a “major gamble,” as there are no guarantees that (1) Sturgeon would receive 50% of the Scottish vote, and (2) that the UK government would acknowledge this result as a legitimate reason to strike a new referendum deal.
The truth of the matter is that Sturgeon’s idea is contingent on many uncertain variables, the main one being that for her plan to trigger change past an inert expression of Scottish opinion, she would need the Labour Party to win more votes than any other party, but still fall short of the majority. In this scenario, the SNP could propose the formation of a minority government in return for a referendum.
Labour has revoked this idea, claiming consideration of such a strategy would destroy their party’s integrity, with some warning that the partnership would open Labour up to accusations of “putting the unity of the United Kingdom at risk for short term gain.”
If she goes ahead with it, Sturgeon’s bold election statement is most certainly a risky roll of the dice, and as James Mitchell, an Edinburgh University Professorsof Politics, remarked: “Internal dissent has been building for some time [in Scotland] and it seems most likely that the gamble of a ‘de facto’ referendum – very much out of character for a very cautious politician – is her last throw.”
It’s not likely that a forced-hand referendum in direct contention with existing UK law, preference and consent would fare well in the face of international scrutiny.
This is a fate all too familiar for the separatists of Catalonia, who similarly opted to detach from Spain with a 90% majority vote in their 2017 independence referendum, only to have the bill denounced as unconstitutional by the Spanish government.
Five years on and the divided country is still reeling from what many describe as “political betrayal,” with civil tensions remaining high, and the ongoing separation debate continuing to polarize the population; the future of Spain and Catalonia, together or apart, is still obscured.
For Scotland, either way, whether a referendum is held by force or by law, whether the Scottish vote would be “yes” to leave or “no” to remain, and whether this is beneficial or detrimental to either or both parties – it’s clear that Scottish values, the stability of the UK, as well as British democracy as a whole, are entirely on the line.
🎙️ We asked people on the streets of Edinburgh who they think should decide Scotland's future.
📣 It's time Westminster listens to the people and stops denying democracy. pic.twitter.com/ejnfQu1AIQ
— Scotland's Voices Show (@scotvoicesshow) November 23, 2022
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Scottish and United Kingdom flags. Featured Photo Credit: Lawrence OP/Flickr