Can Scotland and Northern Ireland somehow stay part of both the UK and the EU?by Jim Gallagher / June 27, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: What to do about the referendum result?
The unexpected result of the referendum on our membership of the European Union will have profound economic, political and social consequences. Perhaps none is more difficult to disentangle than the implications for the different nations of the United Kingdom. The positions of Scotland and Northern Ireland were already under challenge in different ways. Now that each has voted to “Remain” in the EU, unlike England and Wales, these challenges are bigger, and the questions that they pose are much harder to answer.
It is widely acknowledged that the EU took the border question out of Northern Irish politics. Now, the Brexit vote puts it straight back in. Sinn Fein is already demanding that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, holds a “border poll” on the unification of Ireland. But Northern Ireland is divided on confessional lines on this question, as on so many others. And the people of the Republic of Ireland would need to agree to unification too. We are back to the dilemmas of 1914. Could Dublin govern a province against the wishes of a large proportion of the population, and would Dublin want to? The carefully constructed edifice of power-sharing and the peace process has always been high maintenance, but will require much more work to survive this earthquake.
Less than two years ago Scotland decided to remain in the UK by a greater majority (55 per cent) than the UK has chosen to leave the EU. But last week Scots also decided firmly that they want to stay European. It now looks as though they must choose between one union and the other. Naturally enough, Scottish Nationalists are demanding another independence referendum (and Nicola Sturgeon has said that one is “highly likely” to happen). They point out that one of the arguments for staying in the UK was that it guaranteed continuing EU membership on the present terms. It’s a fair point, though by no means the only issue.
But how could Scots make that choice? No…