To Americans, getting independence involved gunfire. The Scots have to do battle at the ballot box, but the referendum for independence is a hard sell.
The First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, has announced her plans to push for another independence referendum on whether or not the nation state should remain a member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 2014, Scotland voted to remain in the UK by 55% to 45% — the turnout rate was a remarkable 84.6%.
According to various opinion polls, it appears that the majority of people in Scotland would prefer to remain within the UK. Nevertheless, recent events in political history have shown that the polls do not always reflect reality. Considering that the UK is in the midst of reeling from the EU referendum and a hard Brexit deal may be negotiated, it is possible that some opinions could shift.
An independence referendum cannot simply be organized, as legally the authority to grant one rests with the UK Government. The UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, is at loggerheads with the Scottish Government, and has publicly accused Sturgeon of having “tunnel vision.” Additionally, the First Minister has sharply criticized the UK Government’s handling of Brexit, and has put Scotland’s relationship with the EU at the heart of her political message.
The world’s eyes, once again, are on the future of the 300-year-old union. Barack Obama weighed in on the last Scottish independence referendum in 2014, making an 11th-hour plea the day before the polls opened, urging Scotland to vote No. Supporters of the Yes movement did not welcome this intervention.
The UK is an extraordinary partner for America and a force for good in an unstable world. I hope it remains strong, robust and united. -bo
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) September 17, 2014
Our current President has also been supportive of the UK remaining together. During an interview with Scotland’s Press and Journal in 2015, Trump criticized British political leadership on the issue, emphasizing that the (then) UK Government should have taken steps to ensure that a second referendum was off the table for at least half a century.
The 2014 referendum was a significant moment in British history, however, it also energized others from outside the UK to outline their concerns that potential Scottish secession could create a chain reaction — galvanizing support for current or new grassroots movements to secede from other sovereign countries. The USA is not immune to that in the contemporary era, with Yes California reportedly gaining at least some traction since the presidential election. Louis J. Marinelli, of Yes California, has publicly stated that his movement was inspired by the Scottish independence campaign, and believes it is time for California “to pick up this ‘Yes’ torch of independence.” If movements such as Yes California, or any other secessionist movements across the US, gain mainstream popularity close to the levels in Scotland, then the US will be faced with similar debates currently going on in the UK.
US citizens living in any state which may take steps to breakaway will want to know how secession will affect their bank balances, their jobs, passport and nationality rights, social security benefits, what currency will be adopted, trade agreements with foreign countries, and what impact such a move could have on the power and influence of the military. On the flip side, citizens from other states or regions that are not actively campaigning for secession would ultimately be questioning how any breakaway movement in their own country could impact their daily life and future. California’s economy is of significant importance to the US, and in 2015 it produced a gross state product (GSP) of about $2.4 trillion. The San Francisco Chronicle weighed in on the issue of a potential Calexit in a recent article, citing concerns over how the state would cope with water shortages, and also the fact that California receives federal funding which enhances its own economic standing. The UK’s situation is not inherently unique, but it is dealing with such political pressures head on in 2017.
Considering the importance of the US-UK special relationship, the constitutional crisis across the Atlantic is causing heads to turn. The ramifications of Brexit are not just local, but global. The US could see the breakup of a key ally, including dealing with the impact of the UK being removed from the EU-US economic trading alliance. Political changes and even a small disruption in trade can have serious consequences for homegrown businesses that benefit from bipartisan trade, including how much we pay for products in our stores or online. While Trump and May have stated that they are committed to securing a US-UK trade deal, if Scotland were to go independent, then that would call for a revamping of the economic arrangement.
Sturgeon’s address, ultimately, should come as no surprise. Following the outcome of the UK-wide EU vote, she stated that it is “highly likely” that a second independence referendum will be on the table. The UK, overall, voted to leave the EU, but Scotland, including Northern Ireland, casted majority votes in favor of remaining within the EU. While the independence referendum of 2014 was widely regarded as a “once in a generation opportunity” by the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, the SNP has repeatedly argued that they would seek another chance for Scots to go to the polls if it was deemed necessary. On numerous occasions, Sturgeon has framed Scotland being forced to leave the EU as undemocratic, and part of her rationale to call for another referendum is based on her accusations that May’s handling of Brexit is counter to Scotland’s national interests. The First Minister’s preference is for the vote to be held after Brexit negotiations have been concluded, arguing that Scotland should not be tied to a deal that she believes would not be backed by the majority north of England’s border. The First Minister is on record stating that May’s proposal to remove the UK from the European Single Market would be “economically catastrophic.”
The European Single Market, alternatively referred to as the Internal Market, is the cornerstone of Europe’s integration and economic governance. It operates with the existence of “Four Freedoms” — free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. The Prime Minister has come under much criticism for her comments with regard to the UK potentially leaving the trading bloc. Nicola Sturgeon’s assertions echo the concerns of other political figures, including Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron.
It remains to be seen how Downing Street and Whitehall will ultimately handle the Scottish Government’s demands in the medium to long term. However, to continually deny one will create further tension, and the SNP are unlikely to back down. The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 has commonly been referred to as “decisive” by many political commentators and figures. However, in light of Brexit and the fact that support for independence is not dramatically abating in Scotland, the constitutional issue is far from settled. Brexit is just one issue that has complicated the sociopolitical landscape, and the USA will not be immune to some of the outcomes.
Sturgeon has stated that “Scotland stands at a crossroads” — the rest of the UK can be added into the mix.