Brexit continues to ask a number of important questions about where exactly the U.K. is heading, including the significant matter of Scotland’s position within the Union. Given Theresa May’s swift leadership victory and EU reluctance to drag out negotiations longer then necessary, the Scottish government may have some big decisions to make in the short to medium term.
On September 18, 2014 the people of Scotland voted 55-44% against independence in an historic referendum. The SNP touted the vote as a ”once in a generation” opportunity to carve out an independent Scottish state. Following the vote Alex Salmond stood down, Nicola Sturgeon stood up and the SNP moved on. Independence was no longer on the table and the party pressed forward with protecting Scotland’s interests in Westminster, as outlined by the campaign for a stronger Scotland in the U.K. at the general election in 2015.
The Scottish Parliament received enhanced powers as a result of the referendum. The Smith commission was set up to identify key policy issues that the Scottish government should exercise greater autonomy over. A series of further devolved policies were eventually delivered in the form of the Scotland Act passed on March 23, 2016.
”There is no precedent for a major country like Britain leaving the EU. And so what is possible at a time like this is yet to be defined. Those rules that there are can be re-written, those conventions which exist don’t necessarily apply.” – Adam Ramsay
However Brexit changes the national political landscape in the U.K. From an SNP perspective, it causes a ”significant and material change in the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence”. Following the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, Mrs Sturgeon has made it clear that Scotland will not be dragged out against its will. And with 62% of Scottish voters rejecting Brexit many believe the First Minister has a mandate to hold another independence referendum if necessary.
Scotland relies on EU funding in a number of key areas. Participation in EU led schemes sees 3978 projects ran across 42 different programmes in Scotland. In addition, three of Scotland’s top four export markets are EU countries and so access to the Single Market will be high on the government’s agenda for safeguarding Scottish trade. In 2014 Scottish exports to the EU were nearly three times higher than the U.S. – its next largest export destination.
Mrs Sturgeon, who replaced Mr Salmond as First Minister of Scotland in 2014, travelled to Brussels following the Leave vote in order to assess the effects of brexit with EU officials. David Cameron moved to quell any talk of a second referendum but his successor Mrs May has remained relatively tight-lipped over the issue. She visited Edinburgh last week to discuss the issue, with initial discussions giving Scotland a seat at the EU-U.K. negotiating table.
”I’m willing to listen to options and I’ve been very clear with the First Minister today that I want the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussion” – Theresa May
The SNP disagrees with the Conservative government on a number of issues. Chief among these is the renewal of Trident. At £167 billion pounds, the Scottish government argues that the money could be better invested in areas such as education, healthcare and policing. Furthermore, the SNP opposes austerity economics and sees immigration as ‘essential to the strength of our economy‘.