Scottish Independence could Lead to Edinburgh-London Confrontation?

The London government has repeatedly opposed the holding of a Scottish independence referendum. Rejecting Nicola Sturgeon's request, Johnson noted that local officials had called the 2014 referendum a "one-generation event" and that people had voted to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. However, Nicola Sturgeon and the supporters of a re-referendum on Scotland's right to self-determination believe that the British vote to leave the EU has changed the situation and that the region wants to remain in the EU. Johnson, however, says the referendum is only legal when it is approved by London. According to opinion polls, Mr Johnson is extremely unpopular among the Scottish people. On this account, we should probably see a sharp confrontation between the Scottish government in Edinburgh and the government in London.

Scottish Independence

Status of the UK Economy

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and the second largest in Europe after Germany, but the consequences of leaving the EU could be dangerous for London. The elections can be considered the most important British political event since the Second World War. The country had a challenging 48-year presence in the EU. Following the Brexit referendum  (23 June 2016) and the support of nearly 52% of the population to leave the EU, the election became the most important issue in political relations between Britain and the EU.

Towards Scottish Independence

In a referendum on Britain leaving the EU, about 52% of British people voted in favour of leaving, but 62% of Scots and 56% of Irish people wanted to stay in the EU. They believe that by joining this union, they will have a better future. It should be noted that Britain has a special stance in Europe. The secession of Scotland and Northern Ireland from England would deal a severe blow to the whole of Britain, which could be interpreted as a collapse. Scotland accounts for almost 20% of the British economy and has a population of five million.

The region also has high economic potentials; with its independence, the political and economic weight of Britain in continental Europe will decrease. Despite the fact that Scotland has been seeking independence for centuries, its people consider EU membership a great privilege. The situation is different in Northern Ireland. The Irish see EU membership as a guarantee for the stability and security of the island of Ireland. The Irish are worried that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will affect the Good Friday Peace Agreement and establish difficult borders between Northern and Southern Ireland.

Economic constraints caused by financial and economic crises in the West have become the main reason for the activation of identity faults, ethnic mobilisation and politicisation of ethnic and divergent tendencies in parts of Europe that have a more favourable economic situation than other regions.

Currently, 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament have been determined and the Scottish National Party (SNP) is likely to win the required 64 seats. However, the new parliamentary arrangement has shifted to the parties supporting Scottish independence, putting them in a better position to advance their nationalist agenda. Sturgeon has previously said that if her party wins the elections, it will hold a Scottish independence referendum before 2024. She also warned that the central government in London had no right to oppose the democratic choice of the people of the region. The Scottish politician now says she is excited about the election results, calling it a historic achievement. She warned that anyone blocking the Scottish referendum would support the democratic will of the people in the region.

She explained: “It seems that the majority of the parliament will be in the hands of the independence parties.” They owe it to the standards of democracy to live up to their promises of Scottish secession. The leader of the Scottish National Party stated: “Only the people of Scotland can decide on the future of the region and no politician from Westminster has the right to block their way.” She added that the exact time of the referendum will be determined by the Scottish Parliament, adding that Boris Johnson or Westminster politicians do not have the right to decide in this regard.

Objections by London Officials

The London government has repeatedly opposed holding a Scottish independence referendum. Rejecting Nicola Sturgeon’s request two years ago, Johnson noted that local officials had called the 2014 referendum a “one-generation event” and that people had voted to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. The first Scottish independence referendum was held on 18 September 2014, during which 55% of voters were for remain in the UK and 45% were for leave. However, Nicola Sturgeon and the supporters of a re-referendum on Scotland’s right to self-determination believe that the British vote to leave the EU has changed the situation and that the region wants to remain in the EU.

Michael Gove (Cabinet Office Minister) has repeatedly avoided answering the question of whether the British government will block the passage of Scotland’s second referendum on independence. The Scottish National Party, despite not gaining a full parliamentary majority in the recent elections, has announced that it has been given new powers to vote on Scotland’s future. However, Mr Gove says addressing future disputes is a “major deviation” from the current situation. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is embroiled in a constitutional battle with Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, which is taking the matter to the British Supreme Court. Ms Sturgeon has reaffirmed her position as Prime Minister of Scotland.

Asked if the British government would block the Scottish Parliament’s second independence referendum, Gove told Sky’s Sophie Ridge program: “No, what we are doing right now is working together for challenges. We are facing it all over the UK”, he added.

Johnson, however, says the referendum is only legal when it is approved by London. He has repeatedly said he would block such a referendum. He says the Scottish people’s “no” vote for independence in the 2014 referendum was a vote that should only be given “once-in-a-generation“. According to opinion polls, Mr Johnson is extremely unpopular with the Scottish people. On this account, we should probably see a sharp confrontation between the Scottish government in Edinburgh and the government in London; the conflict could end the 314-year-old union of the three countries on the British Isles: Scotland, England and Wales. Whether or not Scotland will be able to hold the referendum will ultimately be determined by a court ruling.

Opinion polls suggest that two-thirds of Scots are asking the local government to prepare for a referendum on secession from Britain. The poll, conducted by the prestigious Panelbase Institute, asked participants whether the next Scottish government should ensure a re-secession referendum in the next parliamentary term, or whether the London government would accept or veto it. The results show that 63% of people have chosen the first option compared to the other 37%. Surveys also show how public opinion in Scotland tends towards the region’s independence from Britain. Statistics show that 36% of those who voted for Scotland to remain in the 2014 referendum have changed their minds and want the referendum to be held again.

Opponents of Scottish secession say that if the SNP does not win a majority in parliament, it means that the people do not want to hold a referendum again. Johnson also said that everyone should focus on the process of recovering from the pandemic rather than separatism. “I think a referendum is irresponsible and careless in the current situation”. The same lack of majority for the SNP led the New York Times to welcome the results on Saturday, 8 May, with the headline: “Scottish election results complicate hopes for independence referendum“. ‌Some analysts, however, say that not having a majority is in favour of separatists, because they now have time to work with the Green Party more confidently for a referendum.

An Alliance Between Parties

Scotland’s political culture is markedly different from other parts of England and has undergone significant changes in recent years. One of the most notable developments is the decline in support for the Labour Party (which, like the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, wants to keep Scotland united with the rest of the UK). The Labour Party once won the overwhelming majority of seats in Scotland. The issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) is another important factor. A majority of Scots voted “no” in the referendum. In the case of Covid-19 too, many believe that Sturgeon’s independence-seeking government in Scotland did better than Johnson’s government in London.

Ms Sturgeon said she will hold the referendum only when the pandemic is over. She also stressed that unlike places like Catalonia in Spain, she is not willing to hold an illegal referendum without the consent of the London legal authorities. She said the British government could challenge her request for a referendum in court if it wanted to. Lorna Slater, one of the leaders of the Scottish Green Party, also supported the position in an interview with the BBC. The Scottish First Minister specifically referred to the 2014 case in which the then Conservative government led by David Cameron agreed with the Scottish government led by Alex Salmond (Ms Sturgeon’s party) to hold a referendum.

The Scottish elections have also begun affecting markets. Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, said the risk of Scotland leaving the UK remained low. He added, however, that pressure from Sturgeon and others on holding the referendum “could create a wave in the market and create uncertainties, such as the choice of Britain’s economic and political future.” Scotland accounts for only 8% of the British economy (including Northern Ireland).

‌Local elections were held in other parts of the UK at the same time as Scotland. In England, the Conservative Party won a landslide victory as the Labour Party had a very bad week. Analysts, however, say Mr Johnson’s populist approach, which has led to victories in areas such as the working-class cities of central and northern England, has made him unsuccessful in Scotland, which has a more liberal people. Elsewhere in Britain, including Wales and Northern Ireland, there are movements for secession from Britain. Many economists, however, say that Scotland or other regions leaving the UK would be economically detrimental to them.

The Other Side of the Coin

Only 22% of Scots believe they will have a better economy outside the UK. According to new research by economists, independence is hurting Scotland’s economy and, if seceded, would make it “much poorer” than when it was part of Britain. The report, published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, states that the economic cost of an independent Scotland will be two to three times higher than the outcome of the election. Principal research, the first major study on the economic risks of Scotland’s secession from Britain after the election, concludes that the cost of the move, whether Scotland joins the EU or maintains a common market with Britain, will be heavy. The authors of the study estimate that Brexit will reduce Scotland’s per capita income by up to 2% in the long run. Post-election independence, meanwhile, will reduce Scotland’s per capita income by between 6.3 and 8.7%, depending on the trade barriers imposed on it.

The economic shock from the two is projected to lead to an annual income reduction of 2,800 pounds per person. The report, entitled “United Britain: Scotland’s Prerogative, Trade and Independence”, focuses only on trade costs, including their implications for Scotland’s financial arrangements and currency, and does not address the economic consequences of its independence from Britain. The study’s authors, Hanoi Huang, Thomas Sampson and Patrick Schneider, concluded that independence would hurt Scotland far more, because Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is four times of that with the EU.

Mr Sampson, an assistant professor of economics at LSE, said the cost of independence for the Scottish economy would probably be “two to three times” the cost of chosing. “In addition, re-joining the EU after independence will have little effect on reducing these costs, and in the short term, its economic losses are likely to outweigh that of maintaining a common market with other parts of the UK.” “This analysis shows that, at least in terms of trade independence, Scotland will be significantly poorer than staying in Britain,” said Mr Huang, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. Although many factors will play a role in shaping the outcome of another Scottish independence referendum, Scottish voters need to be aware of all the costs and benefits. “This report contributes to this awareness.”

According to CNN, the result of the “yes” vote to the referendum could raise serious questions about the tripartite nuclear programme in that part of Britain, of which the United States is a part. The Scottish Independence Party says it opposes nuclear weapons and has promised that if they leave, such weapons will have no place in Scotland in the future and will be dismantled. The question is, then, where will these weapons be transferred to? According to CNN, the second issue of concern to the United States is economic. Because a positive vote for Scottish independence would have a significant impact on the Wall Street stock market and confuse investors.

Reinvigorating the Economy

Reacting to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Nicholas Sturgeon, first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, said that rejoining the European Common Market meant “building a stronger economy”. The latest opinion polls suggest that many Scots agree that independence from Britain will come at a cost, but they are not shying away. According to a Panel Base poll, only 22% of Scots believe they will have a better economy outside the UK, while 44% who took part in the poll say the economy will decline as a result of secession. The same poll found that, with the exception of those still hesitant, 52% of Scots wanted independence from Britain.

Financial Compensation Claim

The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pay Scotland billions of pounds in compensation to cover the cost of Brexit. Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the British Parliament, called on the conservative government of Boris Johnson to apologise for the damage it had done to the country’s businesses. Mr Blackford also stressed that the British government must be held accountable for the long-term damages it has done to the Scottish economy. The leader of the Scottish National Party has stated that implementing Brexit, while imposing billions on foreign trade, will reduce his country’s economic growth in the long run.

Mr Blackford described Brexit as “an unnecessary act of economic destruction against the will of Scotland” and insisted that the British government provide an immediate multibillion-dollar bailout to compensate for some of Scotland’s businesses, industries and jobs.

The leader of the Scottish National Party said that one of the immediate consequences of the implementation of Brexit was a serious disruption in the fishing activities of the country. Many Scottish fishermen have been forced to suspend exports to EU markets due to Brexit bureaucracy; among other things, they believe that under the new conditions, it is impossible to send freshly caught shrimp and oysters to the French market just one day after the catch.

Fishermen across the UK have accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of betraying their trust, because he had previously promised to regain control of British waters after Brexit; but after a deal with the European Union, he failed to fulfil his promise.

Final Word

The economic significance of Scotland to Britain doubled, especially after the discovery of oil and gas resources in the North Sea in the 1970s, and this event prompted the people of Scotland to pursue independence from the central government more seriously, because they believe Scotland has not received a fair share of North Sea oil revenues so far.

Over the last 30 years, the per capita tax paid to the central government by the people of Scotland has been higher than in other parts of the country, and if it gains independence, it will be levied in Scotland itself. Scotland lags behind many European countries in terms of economic growth, despite its rich oil and gas resources and strong economic base, while they do not have Scotland’s comparative advantages. In the 2016 national referendum on Brexit, 62% of Scots voted to stay in the EU, while a total of 52% of British people voted to leave. Nicholas Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the National Party, recently called for a referendum on independence from Britain; a demand met with strong opposition from the British government. Fifty-five percent of Scots voted in favour of independence in the 2014 referendum, but the ruling party believes that the new referendum will be approved by a majority of Scots after Mr Johnson’s government poor management of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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