The government’s response to Scotland’s referendum makes a break-up almost inevitable

Tracy Keeling

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans for a second independence referendum. And the Conservative government’s response makes a UK break-up almost inevitable.

Little England

The last Scottish independence referendum took place in 2014. Following a 55%-45% ‘No’ result, the Scottish National Party (SNP) ruled out holding another one unless there was a “significant and material change” in circumstances. It specifically highlighted leaving the EU as one of those changes.

And in June 2016, of course, UK voters delivered that exact significant change. Sturgeon has now confirmed that a second referendum is on the cards:

I can confirm today that next week I will seek the authority of the Scottish Parliament to agree with the UK government the details of a section 30 order – the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.

England’s pots and Scotland’s kettles

In response, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said that, in 2014, “Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom” and that the majority of Scottish people don’t want a second referendum. The spokesperson also commented:

Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time.

May herself accused the SNP of “playing politics” with the UK. And she sternly told the party that “politics is not a game”.

But scolding the SNP for planning a “divisive” referendum is ironic. The EU referendum, which the Conservative government initiated, was an incredibly divisive event. The extraordinary rise in hate crime after Brexit is proof of that.

Blaming the SNP for acting in a way that could cause “huge economic uncertainty” is also brazen. Because the government is seemingly determined to bring about a very hard Brexit. And that will be the cause of much economic uncertainty itself.

The possibility of a hard Brexit is, in fact, why Sturgeon says she will seek another referendum. In her speech, she said:

Over the past few months, we have worked hard – really hard – to try to find agreement. The Prime Minister and her government have been given every opportunity for compromise… but the UK government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement.

Get rid of the Great?

A recent Ipsos MORI opinion poll found an even split in support for independence. 50% of those asked were in favour of an independent Scotland, while 50% were against. Support in the youngest group, 16-to-24-year-olds, stood at 59%. While those 55 and older were 60% against.

Tellingly, the SNP’s fundraising drive for the next referendum raised £30,000 following Sturgeon’s announcement. In just two hours.

In short, the Conservative government’s response amounted to deflecting blame and downplaying the challenge it faces. That’s no way to resolve this divide, or to keep Britain together – as the government claims it wants to do.

This article was updated at 14.15 on 14/03. It originally suggested that 16-17-year-olds were not able to vote in the 2014 Scottish referendum. This age group were able to vote in the referendum, but a bill giving 16-17-year-olds a permanent right to vote in Scottish elections wasn’t passed until the following year.

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