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England's Choice Is Very Clear: It Is Either Brexit Or The 'Precious Union' With Scotland

If the English nation really wants to stay in a union with the nation of Scotland, then they can only really do so by finding a way to also live within the European Union. That is a choice for England to make.
Jane Barlow/PA Wire

It is now very likely there will be a second referendum on the question of independence for Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon's announcement at the SNP conference in Glasgow last week has give some hope to the people of Scotland, for whom the prospect of Brexit is very alarming.

The news of the second referendum has also brought to the fore a choice that England will one day have to make -- at a time when very few have even considered the possibility.

That is, does England really want to break its union with Scotland to achieve the aim of breaking with the European Union?


The reason for a second Scottish independence referendum is very clear.

The Brexit referendum of June 2016 opened up a fault line in the UK. This fault line has been pulled even further apart in the ensuing months by the ascendancy in Westminster of the Conservative right wing under Theresa May.

Although the majority of voters in England and Wales voted strongly for leaving the EU, Scotland voted for something very different. The democratic will of the Scottish people was very clearly to remain in the EU.

As expressed by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, in her SNP conference speech on 13 September:

If you [the UK Prime Minister] value the UK - as you say you do - it's up to you to prove it can work for Scotland. The ball is in your court.

But hear this - if you think for one single second that I'm not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then think again.

If you can't - or won't - allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path.

A hard Brexit will change the UK fundamentally.

A UK out of the single market - isolated, inward looking, haemorrhaging jobs, investment and opportunities - will not be the same country that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014.

At present Scotland is faced with the frightening prospect of such a 'hard Brexit', most likely forced onto Scotland by the Westminster government with little consultation or involvement. The framework for Brexit - as defined at present by the UK executive government - s to be decided by a small handful of ministers, with very little regard to either the Westminster Parliament or the devolved governments and parliaments/assemblies of the other nations of what is currently the United Kingdom.

In short, as a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland faces being subjected to the tyranny of the English majority, as articulated by the UK Prime Minister, on behalf of the whole of the 'one UK'. The collective 'we' (of the one UK) have voted to leave, so shut up and get on with it Scotland, even though you don't want it. Opposition to such a position is then labelled as 'divisive nationalism'.

In response to this, if the SNP government do follow through with the plan for a second independence referendum, then there is a very strong chance that Scotland may vote 'Yes' this time.

Historically, we can see that this happened over devolution between the 1979 and 1997 referendums. Circumstances do change, as happened during the years of Thatcherism in the 1980s, and now during this upheaval of Brexit.

That is, we are now locked into a path that could see the end of the United Kingdom, and the emergence of an independent Scotland.

On a personal level, for me I would welcome that. I have argued since 2014 that there shall be an independent Scotland at some point. I just did not expect to see it happen so quickly.

The United Kingdom: a 'precious union'?

However, this may not be inevitable. There are things that England can do if it wishes to 'preserve' what Theresa May has called the 'precious union'.

In fact, it is quite simple.

Scotland has been given a choice:

In 2014 it voted to remain in the union of the UK by a margin of 55%-45%. In 2016 Scotland voted to remain in the European Union by a margin of 62%-38%.

The predominantly English Conservative party in the UK government are now telling Scotland that, despite its wishes, it will be forced to leave the EU. By remaining in the union of the UK, it will be dragged out of the European Union.

For Scotland, it is one or the other. The UK union or the European Union. Not both.

But my point here is that it is not only Scotland that has to face such a choice.

The majority of English politicians in Westminster - of all parties - wish to maintain the UK union.

However, the English voted for leaving the EU by a margin of 53% to 47%. This was a relatively close decision for such a momentous decision, particularly when the election campaign was so short and so badly run in England. (The two defining elements of the Leave campaign appear to have been the £350million per week bus and the 'Breaking Point' poster).

The general consensus, though, is that England have chosen to leave the European Union, in some way or other (either a 'hard' or a 'soft' Brexit).

In fact, the EU Council President, Donald Tusk has now asserted that there are only two possible options for the UK: 'it's hard Brexit or no Brexit at all'.

As was clear immediately after the EU referendum result - and is now in very sharp focus - such a Brexit has a strong likelihood of leading to an independent Scotland and the ending of the United Kingdom.

If Scotland prefers to be in a union with the EU rather than in a Brexited UK, permanently dominated by a right-wing English Conservative party, then the UK will become England, Wales, and possible Northern Ireland.

England's choice

So this leaves England also with a very important choice to make:

Does England choose Brexit, and the break-up the United Kingdom?

Or does it choose to keep together the 'precious union' of the United Kingdom? This choice would entail finding a means for those parts of the UK that wish to remain in the EU to do so.

Of all the options touted (such as the 'reverse Greenland' option), the most obvious one is to put aside the gaping ambiguities of the referendum result and remain in the EU.

That is, if England values its union with Scotland enough, it will choose to keep that union (the UK) at the expense of the uncertainties (and very likely dangers) of Brexit.

Or to put this another way: if the English nation really wants to stay in a union with the nation of Scotland, then they can only really do so by finding a way to also live within the European Union.

That is a choice for England to make.

Until now, it has hardly even given it much thought.

A version of this post was previously published on

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