In a 2014 referendum, Scottish voters rejected independence (but only by about 10 percentage points) in large part because the risks seemed to outweigh any potential reward.
Scotland’s politics are well to the left of England’s, which led to a long-term sense of alienation and motivated many voters who backed independence. Weighed against that, though, was uncertainty — what would happen to the pound? Jobs? Offshore oil resources?
The ‘No’ campaign, Better Together, played on these fears:
After the vote, the Scottish National Party, which backs independence, said that they would push for a second referendum if there was a “significant and material change in circumstance” from 2014.
On Friday, SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that Thursday’s Brexit referendum decision taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union was the kind of change the party had in mind.
Sixty-two percent of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU, and Sturgeon said that it was “democratically unacceptable” for it to have to be taken out of the EU against its will.
In the UK overall, 52 per cent of voters chose to leave the EU. In England, 53 per cent voted to leave.
Voters were reacting to concerns about immigration and what some saw as the ever-increasing power of the 28-member bloc.
“I think an independence referendum is now highly likely, but I also think it’s important that we take time to consider all steps, and to have the discussions, not least to assess the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed yesterday,” she said.
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A second Scottish referendum would take place under very different circumstances. Scots would be reacting to a forced choice between union with England and union with the rest of Europe. Independence may no longer seem like the high-risk choice it did in 2014.
If political and economic chaos follows the Brexit vote, there will be a reluctance in Scotland to conform to what will be seen as a bad decision made in England that Scots rejected. Scotland tried to embrace both the UK and the EU, but England’s decision on Brexit made that impossible, the argument will run.
Young voters in Scotland may see a vote for independence as a way of reclaiming the right to live and work in any of the union’s 27 other states, for example. (In 2014, younger Scottish voters were more likely to back independence.)
In other words, after Thursday’s Brexit vote there is much more of a practical case for Scottish independence than there was in 2014.
Scotland’s application to join the EU would have to be approved by all member countries, however.
In the leadup to the Scottish referendum, former Irish finance minister Ruari Quinn predicted that Spain and Belgium would reject an independent Scotland’s application to join the EU, terrified of the encouragement it would give their own separatists in Catalonia and Flanders. Whether that would happen in reality is another question.
The disappearance of Scotland would also have profound effects on British politics. In 2014, many speculated that the Conservatives would find it much easier to form majority governments without Scottish voters.
With files from The Associated Press
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