Will Brexit break the United Kingdom? | The World Weekly
Before tucking into a meal of sheep’s heart, liver and lung, spiced and wrapped inside the stomach, this Wednesday, Scots recited the ‘Address to a Haggis’ by Robbie Burns to celebrate their favourite son. But it is another one of his poems – ‘To a Mouse’ – that best captures Scotland’s precarious position within the United Kingdom. ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men / Gang aft agley,’ he mused after upturning a mouse’s nest with his plough in 1785. The best-laid plans often go awry.
David Cameron, who now occupies himself with charity work and after-dinner speeches, found that to his cost in the early hours of June 24 last year. Having called a referendum on EU membership to quell a rebellion within his Conservative Party and protect its right flank from UKIP, he lost and resigned. The pound plummeted, the EU quaked, and the regional government in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain, said an independence referendum was “highly likely”.
And yet, after a brief spike in late June, pollsters are yet to register a surge in nationalist sentiment. Almost 55% of respondents in the latest survey by BMG Research were opposed to peeling away, suggesting opinion has barely budged since the 2014 referendum. Along with collapsing oil prices, which shattered the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) economic case for independence, this has led some Brexiteers to sound the all clear. Michael Gove, a Scot who led the Leave campaign, recently proclaimed that “Brexit will strengthen, not weaken, the Union”.
That may be characteristically blasé. The SNP is certainly hedging its bets by trying to secure special status as part of the European single market before committing to ‘indyref2’, another independence referendum. But this plan is quixotic, and a Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Theresa May does not have to consult the Scottish government before firing the Brexit gun has already heightened the sense of exclusion in Edinburgh. One of the main Unionist arguments in 2014 - that independence would imperil Scotland’s EU membership - is now risible, and Brexiteers need only look in the mirror to see how political conviction can trump economic warnings.
Still, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon might also want to heed Burns’ apology to the mouse. If she calls indyref2 and loses, it could dash independence dreams for several decades, and forfeit any remaining leverage over Brexit.