U.K. Breakup Back in Play as Scots Weigh New Independence Vote

  • Scotland, N. Irish vote to stay in EU as England opts to leave
  • Nationalists legislating for second independence referendum

Scotland's Sturgeon: Explore All Options on EU Membership

The mantra from the U.K. campaign to leave the European Union was that the country can survive perfectly well on its own. The question now after its triumph in the Brexit vote is whether the U.K. can survive at all.

The Scottish National Party government said that the majority U.K. decision to leave the EU justified another vote on Scots independence. Results of Thursday’s EU referendum showed Scotland voted to remain in the 28-member bloc, while England and Wales opted to leave, setting up another showdown between London and Edinburgh. In Belfast, Irish republicans Sinn Fein called for a referendum on Irish reunification.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second referendum on independence is “on the table” less than two years since the last one. The SNP leader said she wanted to make it clear to European leaders that Scotland has voted to stay.

“Scotland faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against our will. I regard that as democratically unacceptable,” she said. “There’s no doubt that yesterday’s result represents a significant and material change in the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence in 2014.”

Referendum map

The Brexit fallout leaves Prime Minister David Cameron -- and his successor once he steps down by October -- not only dealing with a divorce from the 28-member EU, but also potentially fighting to keep the U.K. marriage intact after more than three centuries.

“We’re seeing the end of the union,” said Tim Ash, a London-based strategist at Nomura International Plc. “There is no way to stop the momentum now towards Scots independence, and second time around given the pro-EU majority in Scotland they will vote to leave."

Game Changer

Brexit is one of the game changers the Scottish nationalists have said would prompt them to seek another referendum on full autonomy. Another was a turn in the polls to show a clear majority would back independence. Before the EU referendum, a survey by TNS showed the country of 5.4 million was split roughly as it was in the 2014 independence vote, in which 55 percent to 45 percent of people opted to remain in the U.K.

For analysis of Scotland’s independence drive, click here

The acrimonious Brexit campaign that played out in most of the U.K., with claims and counter-claims on the economy and immigration, barely touched Scotland. The political establishment was united in remaining in the EU with the leaders of the largest parties -- the SNP, Conservatives and Labour -- all sharing a platform. In Northern Ireland, the divide was along political lines in the Belfast assembly.

“The result intensifies the case” for a vote on Irish unity, said Martin McGuinness, the province’s deputy first minister, broadcaster RTE reported.

Ireland was split in 1921 as part of the deal that gave most of the island independence from Britain, creating the 310-mile (500 kilometer) border between the two states -- the U.K.’s only land frontier with the EU. Even so, given Unionist opposition in the north, a referendum isn’t likely anytime soon.

How Britain Voted: Brexit Results


For full coverage of the referendum, click here

Clean Sweep

It’s a different story in Scotland, where 62 percent of voters backed remaining in the EU with 38 percent favoring leave. In Northern Ireland, the margin of victory was 56 percent to 44 percent. Both England, with by far the greatest population, and Wales voted to leave.

The ensuing negotiations on areas such as fishing rights and agriculture may be key to what course Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to chart. There’s also raw cash. Scotland is due almost 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) from the EU between 2014 and 2020 from two development funds. Northern Ireland also is a large recipient as a dividend of the peace process following the sectarian conflict.

Alex Salmond, Sturgeon’s predecessor and now an SNP lawmaker in the U.K. Parliament, said as results came in that the constitutional implications could be huge if England were to remove Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland out of the EU.

“At the beginning of this, Nicola Sturgeon suggested to Cameron to put a four-country lock on this so all four had to vote to leave,” he said on BBC Television. “Maybe he’s thinking it wasn’t such a ridiculous idea now.”