October 27, 2016

Scottish leader says future in EU as Britain votes to leave

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland sees its future firmly in the European Union, its leader said on Friday as most of the rest of Britain voted to leave, raising the spectre of a new independence vote and the possible dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Scotland voted by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent to remain in the European in a referendum on Thursday, putting it at sharply at odds with the United Kingdom as a whole, which voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave.

Most voters in Northern Ireland also voted to remain and Irish nationalist leaders there called for a poll on leaving the United Kingdom and uniting with Ireland.

“Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain in the EU, and I welcome that endorsement of our European status,” First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday after partial results were announced.

“We await the final UK-wide result, but Scotland has spoken – and spoken decisively.”

One key reason Scots rejected independence in a referendum almost three years ago was because independence meant leaving the EU too. Some Scots who wavered but eventually voted to stick with the UK in 2014, may now prefer to join the secessionists.

Splitting Scotland from the UK would end three centuries of shared history, upending another successful economic relationship shortly after the now-impending divorce between Britain and the EU.

Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP), running the devolved Scottish government, has repeatedly indicated that if the vote were divergent north and south as it is, it would want the question to be asked again.

But she did not mention a new independence vote in the immediate aftermath of the result. Calling a new vote would not be quick or simple and the SNP would want to first ensure a new vote could be won.

Where the last Scottish independence campaign fell down is widely considered to the economic argument; a new Scotland was then projected to stick with its old currency, the pound, and was underpinned by an oil price then over $100 but now roughly a half of that level.

Sturgeon would have to build a robust economic independence strategy to convince those emotionally persuaded in 2014 but not economically so.

She would also have to make sure that the maelstrom around Britain’s EU exit does not sweep away some of the support the SNP currently has.

There are other big factors hindering a divorce. One may be fears that a lightweight EU, without Britain, is a less attractive partner for Scotland, which sends two thirds of its output to the rest of the UK.

Another rests on concerns about what a border between England and Scotland would do to both security and the economy.

“It could be that in the panic that ensues after a British exit, some people might want to stick with what we still have,” said a lawmaker from the SNP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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