Britain Could Lose Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

The political crisis in Great Britain caused by the fight between “for” and “against” Brexit has already led to the resignation of two Prime Ministers, the suspension of the work of the parliament, a cardinal split in society, and a deadlock in relations with the European Union. And on top of all this, the crisis considerably strengthened centrifugal trends in the state and separatist sentiments in a number of regions. Yes, there is not talk not only about Scotland, where a considerable part of the population has long wanted to separate from the United Kingdom.

As a reminder, in 2014 the Scots already held a referendum on exiting Britain. It unnerved the establishment, but as a result the opponents of independence won with a comfortable advantage of more than 10%. Even the leaders of the separatists who organised that referendum recognised that such a poll is possible “once in a generation”. Now London constantly reminds them of it. However, it is necessary to recognise something else: in the event of Britain’s exit from the European Union the circumstances sharply change. Considering that the vast majority of Scots categorically oppose Brexit, another referendum on independence seems quite reasonable.

And all of this resonates in society more and more. After 2014 most of the residents of Scotland (including those who voted to separate from Britain) opposed a second referendum. Judging by the fresh research of the YouGov company, the number of supporters of this idea exceeded the number of its opponents (45 for 44%) for the first time. However, the same poll shows that so far there are slightly more opponents of separation from Britain among Scots than separatists (2% difference), but the trend of the last few months demonstrates a rapid growth in the number of the latter. And one of the sociological measurements (executed by the company of Lord Ashcroft) revealed the advantage of supporters of the region’s separation. At the same time, all polls show that even among the Scottish adherents of the idea of an indivisible Great Britain, disbelief in the fact that the country will keep unity in the next years grows.

Following these moods, the first minister of the region Nicola Sturgeon (she is the leader of the Scottish National Party, advocating for separation) last week officially reported about plans for another referendum. Her local government programme for next year clearly states: “The current political and constitutional crisis also raises the importance of securing the right for Scotland to have a say over our own future. As the decisions of the UK Government increasingly go against the interests and democratic wishes of the people of Scotland, it is more important than ever that we complete the necessary steps to hold a referendum on independence”.

Remembering the experience of five years ago, the Scottish nationalists, it seems, decided to resort to even more artful tactics, involving other regions in their movement. Thus, the “National” newspaper, which is officially supporting the separation of Scotland, published a special issue for Wales dedicated to the marches of Welsh separatists that took place last Saturday. Thus, the Scots are trying to expand the area of combat against the mother country, having transferred the front outside of the borders of their territory.

So far we can’t speak seriously about Wales’ campaign for independence being successful: a poll in December of last year gave a ratio of 67% against 17% in favour of keeping the region a part of the United Kingdom. It is impossible to say that Brexit cardinally changed the situation there, but in the process of the development of the crisis in London, the question of a referendum in Wales too even more often arises in the regional agenda.

So, quite recently deputies of the municipal council of the county of Gwynedd (Northern Wales) supported the independence of the region. 42 local deputies were “for”, and only four voted “against”. Some city municipalities of the same county also voted for separation from Britain. The marches of supporters of Welsh independence mentioned above brought together several thousands of people. However, the British press highlighted them less willingly than the rallies in Hong Kong or Moscow.

Welsh separatists have little faith in the near-term outlook. Moreover, they don’t doubt that London will work against them harshly if the question of the region’s separation moves into the practical plane, like in Scotland. Supporters of independence are even afraid of a military operation akin to the one in the Falklands.

But the traditional problem of Northern Irish separatism is even more painful for the British. In 2016 this region also voted against Brexit. And most of all, they don’t like the return of the border and visa regime with Ireland, which is one of the stumbling blocks in the difficult negotiations between London and Brussels.

And here the fresh poll carried out by the company of Lord Ashcroft mentioned above revealed that in the event of Britain’s exit from the European Union, 51% of voters in Northern Ireland are ready to support the separation of the region from the United Kingdom and a reunion with Ireland. And among the youth, which didn’t experience the horrors of civil war, the figure is 60%. Thus, the idea has legs.

It is no wonder that the party of local nationalists “Sinn Féin” immediately called for a referendum on association with the Irish Republic in the event that Britain exists the EU. London absolutely rejects such a possibility. But the vast majority of politicians in Belfast (including some convinced Unionists) considers a referendum after Brexit just inevitable. Especially since it is stipulated also by the Good Friday Agreement that in 1998 settled the Northern Irish conflict.

For Belfast, which endured decades of mutual bloody violence, reviving the idea of separation from Great Britain is fraught also with a renewal of the armed conflict. Such fears are already expressed aloud and obviously are grounded.

As we see, the escalating political crisis in Britain drove local elites into a desperate deadlock. On the one hand, the leaders of the Conservatives can’t abandon Brexit, since in this case the party would lose its basic electorate. On the other hand, an exit from the European Union will become the trigger for a start of a new painful crises and irreversible centrifugal processes that are quite capable of burying the United Kingdom once and for all.

Vladimir Kornilov

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