Politics, Analysis, Europe

ANALYSIS - Scots' independence hopes roar back to life following UK's December election

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland 'cannot be imprisoned in the UK against its will,' but will Westminster budge?

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal   | 16.12.2019
ANALYSIS - Scots' independence hopes roar back to life following UK's December election


How the results of the December election will shape Brexit -- the U.K.’s biggest political and social shift since the last world war -- is more or less obvious, with Conservative leader Boris Johnson likely to bring an end to the saga by the end of January, but now a new row over leaving the EU is rearing its head.

Many political commentators and strategists think Brexit may initiate the end of a three-century-long almost forced marriage between Scotland and the rest of the U.K.

A few weeks before leaving office, then-European Council President Donald Tusk gave voice to this possibility.

Brexit would likely mark the "real end of the British Empire," Tusk claimed in a speech, but how likely is it that Scotland will choose a different path than the rest of the kingdom?

Arguments for Scottish independence are indeed nothing new under the sun, but the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) election victory in Scotland definitely has given fresh courage to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has argued that the majority of Scottish people who voted to remain in the EU in 2016 would “not be dragged out” from the bloc against their will.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson cannot “bludgeon” Scotland into seeing the world in the same way that he does, she said on Saturday, stressing that the election results made it clear that Scots want a different future than the rest of the U.K.

On Sunday, she said Scotland cannot be “imprisoned in the U.K. against its will” and warned that Johnson’s continued refusal to allow a second referendum would only fuel support for Scottish independence.

“I said to [Johnson] on the phone on Friday night, if he thinks saying no is the end of the matter he’s going to find himself completely and utterly wrong,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

She added: “You cannot hold Scotland in the union [in the U.K.] against its will. You cannot just lock us in a cupboard and turn the key and hope everything goes away. If the United Kingdom is to continue then it can only be by consent.

“If Boris Johnson is confident in the case for the union, then he should be confident enough to make that case and allow the people to decide. Scotland cannot be imprisoned in the U.K. against its will.”

Scotland, the land of Scots

The group of large islands northwest of continental Europe which today make up the U.K. and Republic of Ireland are called the British Isles.

Today, the name British can only be associated with Britain, otherwise known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But the word “Britain” is actually derived from a very old Celtic word “Pretani,” which meant “painted” or “tattooed people.”

The Celts were the original inhabitants of this group of islands, and the ancestors of the Scots, Irish and Welsh, and were known for putting up a fierce fight against invaders, including the Romans and Normans.

The Scots are of Celtic descent.

Throughout history, the relationship between Scots and English has always been rocky.

English kings’ drive to subject the Scottish Highlands caused numerous wars between the two nations for nearly six centuries, between A.D. 937 and 1575.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 between England’s King Edward I – who eagerly launched campaigns to rule Scotland – and an army of Scots lead by William Wallace and his companion Andrew Murray ended with the Scottish army triumphant.

But their victory was short lived.

In 1298, in the Battle of Falkirk, Edward Longshanks beat the Scottish army of clans, a feat which earned him the sobriquet the Hammer of the Scots.

In 1314, Scottish King Robert the Bruce beat Edward II’s army in the Battle of Bannockburn, giving the Scots a bolstered sense of nation and unity.

The Anglo-Scottish wars continued until 1603 with the Union of Crowns, when James VI of Scotland ascended to the British throne as James I.

But the two countries’ actual unity did not come until 1706 and 1707, when parliaments in both countries ratified the Act of Union.

Indyref 1 & 2

The first referendum that asked Scottish voters whether they would want to break free from the U.K. was held in 2014, a mere two years before the historic EU referendum.

The government under then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged better understanding for Scots from Westminster and "extensive new powers" for the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP, the party led the independence campaign, had full confidence that the country would survive and even be better off outside the U.K., strengthened by the nation’s oil fields in the North Sea, world-famous malt whiskey, textile, jet engines, and various banking and financial services.

But Scots rejected separation from the rest of the U.K., as just over 2 million votes (55.3%) were cast to remain part of the kingdom, while 1.62 million (44.7%) people voted for independence.

Johnson and the Scottish Tories have repeatedly rejected the idea of indyref2 -- as the possible vote has become known -- calling the 2014 referendum a “once in a lifetime” event that proved Scots prefer the union.

But that was then, and this is now.

In 2016 of course, the U.K. held its own “union” referendum and decided to quit the EU, a decision most Scots disagreed with, and this is the nut of the problem for Scotland, according to Sturgeon.

Since immediately after the EU referendum, she has said that the economy and welfare in her country depend on its benefits under EU membership, warning that leaving the bloc will be disastrous for the Scottish people.

Whether the U.K. government will allow Scotland to hold a new referendum is still to be seen, but it is very likely that the Johnson-led strong Tory majority in the House of Commons will do their best to ignore calls from their northern neighbors.

Scots can still try and hold a referendum on their independence from the U.K. after more than three centuries of unity, but such a vote would not be binding for Westminster, leaving the union intact, at least for now.

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