So it appears Scotland could be headed for a second referendum on leaving the U.K. The “leave” parties gained a supermajority in last weekend’s national elections, meaning they have the numbers to request a referendum if they choose.
Of course gaining the right to ask for a referendum, and getting consent to carry it out are two different things.
To date, the Scottish National Party has twice asked the U.K. parliament to agree on a second referendum. Former prime minister Theresa May said no the first time.
Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson said no the second time, calling a referendum “a once in a generation event.”
Yet it’s not quite that simple (it never is when the Scots and Sassenachs are at each others’ throat.)
As Britain’s Institute for Government puts it, “Under the Scotland Act 1998, the Scottish Parliament is not allowed to pass legislation relating to matters “reserved” to Westminster, including ‘the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England’. This is widely interpreted to mean that any referendum relating to Scottish independence would require Westminster approval. However, the matter has never been tested in court, so there remains some uncertainty about whether Holyrood could hold an advisory referendum without consent.”
The better question is whether such a referendum should be held, even if permission were granted. According to the most recent polls, 51 per cent of Scottish voters are for independence, while 49 per cent are against (my computer auto-corrected “Scottish” to “skittish,” not a bad guess.)
That’s less support for the leave vote than pre-referendum polls showed the first time, and of course on that occasion the remain side won by 10 points, 55 per cent to 45.
Moreover the leave side led the vote in only three counties. The other 29 all voted to remain. That would have to weigh in any judicial ruling should the question of a second referendum go to the courts.
Still, on the broader question, does separation make sense? I have to say no, much as the emotional side of me says yes.
Scotland’s economy is nowhere near as diversified as England’s. Take away Scotch whisky and North Sea oil, and what do you have left? Fish, textiles and timber. Those do not a thriving economy make.
Then there is the debt issue. On separation, Westminster would certainly demand that Scotland shoulder her share.
The national debt stands at $3.1 trillion. On a straight population basis, Scotland’s share would be around $350 billion. How would the bond rating companies react to that?
Then you have the reality of an aging population which will put health care and well being above any matter of national pride. Old folks vote with their pension books.
However, the real problem with banging the nationalist drum is that it provides Scotland’s politicians with a convenient means of ducking far more urgent issues.
Alcohol consumption is 20 per cent higher than in England. Obesity is out of control. Heart attack death rates are the second highest in Europe. Life expectancy lags two to three years behind England’s.
No question some of this is the legacy of centuries-old oppression by Scotland’s larger neighbour. But equally, a good part is down to wilful neglect by a Scottish parliament marinating in self pity and fixated on revenge.