GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – The result of the United Kingdom’s referendum on its continued membership of the European Union has caused a constitutional crisis that has reignited calls for Scottish independence.
June’s plebiscite on EU membership saw 53 percent of the English electorate vote for Brexit. While in Scotland nearly two thirds chose “remain.”
The next step should be simple. As Scotland’s internationally acclaimed author Irvine Welsh tweeted: “People shouldn’t have any problem with Scotland staying in Europe or England leaving. It’s what they voted for. It’s called democracy.”
England opted to leave for a number of reasons. The saddest of those motivations was the desire to end the free movement of EU citizens. The arguments of too many “leave” campaigners, particularly on immigration, were sinister and dishonest. While it would be untrue to label all “leave” voters xenophobic, the language of hate and mistrust did chime with a few. And tragically among many from the poorest communities in England, areas which already felt isolated from the political elites.
But it was far more about the sense that a “leave” vote would be sticking one to the establishment, a notion which — somewhat ironically — was encouraged by some of the Westminster elites themselves. But it was a con, as Westminster is their biggest enemy, not the EU.
Since the vote, some of the leading candidates to succeed outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron have threatened to use EU citizens residing in the U.K. as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. Utterly deplorable.
Scotland wants and needs the many economic and social benefits that free movement provides. And the country voted overwhelmingly — by 62 percent to 38 percent — to remain part of that free community of European citizens.
Like many countries around the world, Scotland has an aging population. It has seen millions leave its shores in search of a better life over the centuries. It needs to welcome people in, not lock them out.
And on the flip side, future generations of Scots should not be deprived the right to live, work and love in countries across Europe.
Access to the largest single market in the world is also vital for Scotland’s businesses and entrepreneurs; around half of its international exports went there in 2014.
Without free movement there is no free access to the single market. And vital infrastructure projects in Scotland — including roads, hospitals and schools — rely on EU funding. The U.K. government has confirmed it is unlikely to protect the money Wales — a net beneficiary of EU funding — receives through membership. Scotland won’t fare any better.
The country needs the EU. Scotland’s world-leading research institutions have secured €217 million from the Horizon 2020 fund — the biggest EU research and innovation program — since 2014, helping to boost the country’s international reputation in science. Worryingly, some academics have claimed that U.K. scientists have been asked to remove their names from joint EU funding applications since the result of the EU referendum. A swift reaction to the realities of the so-called Brexit decision.
The impact will be felt by all. The EU protects the rights of workers and the individual human rights of its citizens. There are no guarantees Westminster will do likewise.
Indeed, the mood of many right-wing politicians was spelled out in an article published in the Brexit-supporting Telegraph newspaper that called for the scrapping of European limits on how long people can work. This is just the tip of the iceberg though. With the humane anchor of the EU removed, the sociopathic tendencies of neoliberal politicians can find greater expression.
These are the same politicians that have been rightly lambasted by the United Nations for the severity of their austerity policies, which the U.N. says breach people’s international human rights, with women and young people worst affected by Westminster’s savage welfare cuts. Scotland is right to be worried. It asked for none of this.
Disgusted at the new levels of intolerance encouraged by the “leave” vote — which have seen a spike in hate crimes in England, though not in Scotland — the citizens of Edinburgh, who voted 74 percent to remain, took to the streets of the Scottish capital in their thousands to protest the decisions taken elsewhere. A city that roundly rejected Scottish independence two years ago could now support full statehood as the only way to protect both its place in the EU and the progressive values it holds so dear.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon spoke for many living in Scotland in the days following the EU referendum when she said the country is “stronger for the diversity that shapes us.” The first minister has taken every opportunity to communicate the Scottish government’s gratitude and thanks to all EU citizens who choose to live and work in Scotland. The country resolutely backed that sentiment at the ballot box.
Summing up the beautiful patchwork of nationalities and cultures that make Scotland what it is, she said: “We are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the thousands who came from Ireland to work in our shipyards and in our factories; we are the 80,000 Polish people, the 8,000 Lithuanians, the 7,000 each from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Latvia, who are among the many from beyond our shores that we are so privileged to have.”
Scotland is European. And it voted for the right to remain so. A right which will have to be won through victory in a fresh independence referendum. And polls show a majority are now in favor.
It would not be a rerun of the country’s 2014 vote, when it chose to stay in the U.K., as many took that decision based on the argument that an independent Scotland would go to the back of the queue for EU membership. This time independence will be the only safeguard against its forced withdrawal.
Leading European politicians and diplomats have already voiced their support for Scotland remaining a member of the EU; a crucial sea change in the independence debate.
Sturgeon was warmly welcomed by senior European politicians during her visit to Brussels in the days that followed the EU referendum. A landmark moment for a nation which hasn’t adopted its own foreign policy stance for three centuries.
And the Scottish government has a clear mandate from the people, having stood and won May’s Scottish elections on a manifesto commitment to hold another referendum if there was a “material change” in circumstances — such as being dragged out of the EU against the country’s wishes.
And the wider world recognizes the direction of travel. Global financial giant JP Morgan has predicted Scotland will be independent by 2019 with its own currency. Scotland has asked to remain in the EU, the answer to achieving it is independence.
Iain Robertson is a freelance journalist.
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