Is there really a chance that Scotland will leave the United Kingdom?

All during the Brexit era, I read about how Scots absolutely do not want to leave the European Union.

I even recall that Boris Johnson was addressed as “the last prime minister of the United Kingdom” on the floor of parliament.

But how serious is this? Is it a real possibility?

I’m under the impression that Scots lives and economy are completely tied up with being integrated with England. When it comes down to it, would they really prefer to unravel all that in order to rejoin the European Union?

Time will tell.

But it’s not an unrealistic speculation. In 2014 the Scots voted 55:45 to remain in the UK, but at that time the UK was part of the EU and one of the arguments against independence was that independence would cut Scotland off from both the UK and the EU. Brexit has changed all that; now, if you want to be in the EU, you have to vote to leave the UK, and those who were motivated by this argument to vote to remain in 2014 will now be motivated to vote to leave.

But there’s more. After the Brexit referendum, the British government decided to pursue a “hard”
Brexit - minimal connection to the EU - and has successively hewed to harder and harder forms of Brexit. They are not compelled to do this by the refernedum result; the referendum result is satisfied by any model of Brexit. And, while all forms of Brexit are injurious to Scotland, the harder the Brexit, the more damaging to Scotland. So the British goverment, at least arguably committed to Brexit by the referendum result, has voluntarily gone further and embraced a form of Brexit which does unnecessary harm to Scotland, ignoring both Scottish interests and Scottish wishes.

And what this underlines is that the British government is not at all sensive to Scottish viewas, concerns or interests. The UK union is badly unbalanced in favour of England, and the Scots are getting a graphic illustration of how this plays out when it matters. This will hardly endear them to the union.

There is one consideration which goes the other way. In 2014, an independent Scotland would have been part of the EU along with rump-UK, and this would mean a high degree of economic and regulatory integration, which would tend to minimse the economic impact of independence. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal and trade on WTO terms and independent Scotland joins the EU, there will be a much more signficant economic border between the two countries than would have been the case in 2014. That will tend to increase the economic costs of independence.

Tl;dr: The way in which the UK government has pursued Brexit has greatly strengthened the political case for independence, while also increasing the economic cost of independence. How will all this net out? Hard to say. But the two possible outcomes are (a) an independent Scotland, or (b) a disgruntled Scotland, financially tied to a union in which it is gratuitously injured, increasingly disregarded and increasingly unhappy. A happily United Kingdom is not a likely outcome here.

Just a wrinkle on the ever-harder Brexit line of the Westminster government: although they say the internal trade bill they’ve just published is intended to devolve more regulatory powers to the devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) once repatriated from EU level, that may only apply if there is a final trade deal with the EU. The bill also contains a reserve power to allow Westminster to override, not only what is registered as a legal agreement with the EU, but also legislation in Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland under previously devolved powers.

The bill may only be intended, to some extent, as a last-ditch negotiating ploy to persuade the EU to blink first and give way, but Johnson has to keep onside plenty of Tories who think a no-deal exit would be just great, and they don’t particularly care about Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

So yes, come November, the scales may have shifted that bit more towards the departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland. I’ve made sure to get hold of my Scottish grandfather’s birth certificate, just in case.

Oil is internationally tradeable.

Scotland is certainly moving closer to independence.

But it’s worth noting that an independent Scotland would then have to apply to become a member of the EU. It wouldn’t happen automatically, and it would probably take several years.

A hard border between Scotland and England would be highly damaging to Scotland.

England would strongly dispute ownership of those oil fields, and exactly which of them should belong to Scotland. It’s not at all clear who would get which areas, and what criteria should be used.

Well, of course they would. They wouldn’t be Westminster if they weren’t being dicks.

International law seems to be quite clear that something like the median line principle should apply. England certainly thought that was good enough for fishing rights in '99.

Of course, we’ve already seen this week how this Parliament feels about respecting international treaties…

It hardly matters. Oil revenues have plummeted to such an extent that their impact on iScot’s putative budget is minimal. From the official Scottish Government figures:


Excluding North Sea revenue 56,530 59,372 61,432 64,076 65,155
Including North Sea revenue (population share) 56,523 59,375 61,538 64,174 65,208
Including North Sea revenue (geographical share) 56,213 59,529 62,573 65,442 65,878

A full geographic share only increases the “onshore” revenues by 1% and differs from population share by less.

That’s the fiscal position for the government; in terms of the economy the same trend applies - oil just isn’t worth as much as it used to be. Production has more than halved since the beginning of the century. Oil prices are recovering from their recent trough but they are on a downward trajectory (and should be! We’ve got a planet to save here.).

There is an economic case for independence, but to the extent that it relies on “we’ve got a lot of valuable oil”, it’s pretty weak.

I wouldn’t say it relies on it, but it does belie the notion that Scotland is some economic leech entirely dependent on England (which is how I read “Scots lives and economy are completely tied up with being integrated with England”). Independent Scotland would have its own economy and assets - not just the oil, but the forests and the fishes, and could manage just fine. Nor would there be some sort of wall between the two countries.

Note - I’m not arguing that Scotland will become wealthier if it went independent, or anything like that - it will certainly take an economic knock. Just that it won’t instantly become a destitute hellhole.

Well, for parts of Glasgow, “destitute hellhole” might be an improvement…

I don’t think that’s a fair reading. IIRC something like 62% of Scotland’s current exports are sold to England. That’s hardly a surprise. Of course our economy is closely integrated with England’s. It’d be weird if it weren’t. But insofar as independence means increasing the friction on the Scotland/England border above it’s current value of absolute zero, that is going to have some kind of impact on Scotland’s economy.

As UDS says, Scotland joining the EU is actually an aggravating factor for this issue. Outside the EU, an independent Scotland would have room to come to a highly integrated deal with rUK. Inside the EU, the Scotland/England border has to be exactly as firm as the rUK/France border. Which will be very firm indeed, the way things are looking.

We’re shortly going to have a fairly drastic demonstration of the impact of a country putting up novel trade barriers with it’s largest trading partner; it is going to be an interesting question whether the effect of that is to strengthen the political argument for independence (“Look what those arrogant heedless bastards did to us against our will”) or the economic argument against: “You wanna go through this shit twice?”

None of this is a positive argument for the Union, and right now the political arguments are winning (recent poll had 55% in favour of independence). But I think there’s a decent chance that living through the reality of breaking up one economic union will affect people’s thoughts about the benefits of breaking up another immediately afterwards.

62% is not the “completely” of the original statement, and anyway, markets are mobile. If it were easier for Scottish goods to sell on the continent, that’s where they’ll sell, and the numbers will change.

Don’t get me wrong, here - I actually favour increased unions, not nationalism. But in Scotland’s case, freeing it up to be part of the EU is better to me than it being part of the UK, since Westminster chose to make it either-or.

Yeah, of course they will. But Scotland is in the EU now. It’s as easy to sell to the continent as it will ever get. Yet it sells most of its stuff to rUK because it’s easier to drive a lorry down the M74/M6 than it is to sail it to Hanover. If it that equation flips it’s because there’s a whole bunch of unnecessary expenses involved in the driving option. That market mobility comes with and because of additional costs which benefit nobody. It also takes time to shake out, which might be fine if things were going well but in the aftermath of a Covid plus Brexit recession may be a little difficult for businesses to weather.

Although the export percentages will change, it’s not obvious that the total volumes and more crucially values of Scotland’s exports will increase under this plan; it’s not even very plausible that they will stay the same.

It’s really a question of planning horizons. Conceivably (but hardly certainly), 50 years from now an independent Scotland in the EU is better off than a UK-member Scotland out of it. But like Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead. You mentioned the deprived areas of Glasgow - “will this plan improve the lives of people living there over the next ten years?” is a pretty good yardstick; it’s the one I use to judge the current Brexit plans and I’m not sure a plan that amounts to “just as bad, if not worse” is the solution.

Also, I’m in danger of arguing myself into a firmer position than I actually hold - I completely sympathise with this and am thoroughly alive to the “when your climbing partner jumps off the cliff, you need to cut the rope” argument that it brings.

Is oil the main reason why England is opposed to Scotland leaving the UK?

I hope Scotland leaves to punish England for its Brexit stupidity.

For all of 3 more months…then the whole equation changes.

That depends on how an independent Scotland approaches rejoining. If they did go all-in (they won’t be able to get away with keeping the pound, for instance) then it will get that much easier than the current UK’s one-leg-in, one-leg-out approach.

I’m not sure that holds for a lot of things - shipping is usually cheaper than trucking at scale or distance. Trucking is just faster.

Better to weather that recession in the bigger market, if it’s going to last.

For sure, my opinion is based on long-term benefit and admitted short-term pain.

No, I don’t think so. I think the main reason is plain old conservatism, or inertia, if you will. That and the standard Southern prejudice against anything north of the Watford Gap…

No. There was a time when oil revenues had a major impact on the UK economy but that time has past now.

Perhaps not coincidentally, English (or at least Conservative Party) enthusiasm for the Union appears to be fading although that’s more attributable IMHO to the rise of English nationalism that Brexit was fuelled by and is fuelling.

Sure… as long as leaving doesn’t punish Scotland itself more than England.

When I said “completely integrated,” my impression is based on the fact that all the Scots I encounter on the internet have lives that on a personal level are highly dependent on free travel throughout the U.K., in terms of jobs, consumer activities, family, recreation, etc. Maybe my impression is wrong, but I get the idea that a hard border between England and Scotland would be tremendously disruptive to the personal lives of a very significant proportion Scots, especially middle class Scots.

Y’all seem to be making the assumption that an independent Scotland would be able to rejoin the EU. If I remember right, Spain was very opposed to Scottish independence, for fear of the effect on their own Catalan separatists. Unless Scotland is able to dissolve the Union before Westminister completes its hard Brexit, it would have to apply for EU membership. And might be told “No.”