As the morning of September 19 dawned six years ago, despondent supporters of Scottish independence looked on dejected in Glasgow’s George Square, draped in Saltire flags and their cheeks emblazoned with the word “Yes”. While they had come close to achieving what many had thought unthinkable, the dream of an independent Scotland appeared to have careened off the road just as the finish line came into view.
Fast forward to today and the foundations of the precarious United Kingdom are once again shifting under the weight of public and political pressure. Opinion polls in Scotland now consistently show a majority in favour of secession from the rest of the UK, a trend that shows little sign of being just a flash in the pan.
So, why the sudden sea change in the fortunes of the independence movement in such a short period?
In the six years since the Scottish independence referendum took place on September 18, 2014, the UK has gone to the polls in two constitutional referenda, three general elections and devolved parliament elections. In this midst of this political tumult, one event in particular has had more impact than the rest: the EU referendum.
While the political and economic union that had persevered for 300 years held (just) in 2014, faultlines over Brexit could cause the final, fatal tremor that sees the UK collapse in on itself entirely.
Brexit bridges two camps
“The main reason why we now see majorities for independence in opinion polls is that pro-Europeans who used to oppose independence have switched to backing it,” Anthony Salamone, managing director and analyst at Edinburgh-based European Merchants, told Euronews. “In that sense, there already is a convergence between support for Scottish independence and support for the EU.”
The UK electorate voted to leave the EU on June 23, 2016, by a slender majority of 51.9 per cent, driven mainly by voters in England and Wales. Northern Ireland resolved to stay in the bloc, along with Scotland.
The latter, however, voted to remain in the EU by the highest margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Furthermore, all local authorities in Scotland declared results in favour of continued EU membership, in stark contrast to England and Wales where the Remain vote was confined to London and other large cities like Cardiff, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.