EU Referendum: State of the Nations

30 June 2016


With a tide of SNP MPs demolishing Labour's place in its Scottish heartlands in 2015, there was a gathering sense that the narrowly-fought 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum represented unfinished business. And it was this same political movement that threw the Scottish position into sharp relief as the nation awaited the EU vote.

The prospect of a second Independence Referendum has long been on the lips of Scottish nationalists, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warning before the question went to the polls that she would staunchly oppose all efforts to drag Scotland out of the EU against its will.

When the results came in, it was clear that the moment to make good on her warnings had arrived.

Ms Sturgeon was not slow to respond. Launching her campaign immediately, she appeared in he media to declare that it would be democratically unacceptable to take Scotland out of the EU, arguing that the differing result between Scotland on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other, was evidence of divergence "in how we see our place in the world".

She later indicated that the Scottish Parliament could attempt to withold legislative consent for an initiative to remove the UK from the EU, 

The Scottish Parliament met this week to discuss the issue, and delivered a cross-party vote for Remain.

After informing her MSPs that she would not be giving up in the face of the referendum result, Ms Sturgeon headed to Brussels to seek assistance and advice from other European leaders.

However, initial indications were not entirely encouraging. In the words of the Herald, French and Spanish leaders "bluntly [poured] cold water" on the prospects of an independent Scotland retaining the UK's EU membership should it quit. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in particular is ill disposed to support her, given Spain's own concerns about regions demanding secession.

This morning, the Daily Record claimed Ms Sturgeon was considering holding a second Independence Referendum "by 2018", and before the UK has a chance to leave the EU. Constitution experts have questioned the plan, however, arguing that issues such as the need for Westminster's consent, and Scotland's insufficient economic strength could get in the way.

In a sign of continuing antagonism between the SNP and Labour at Westminster, SNP Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Pete Wishart made a much-publicised attempt to humiliate Labour over its Shadow Cabinet woes by attempting to be named the official Opposition. Highlighting the fact that only 40 Labour MPs chose to back Mr Corbyn in a vote on a motion of no confidence earlier in the week, Mr Wishart argued that the SNP's capacity to outstrip his loyal contingent with its 54 MPs ought to give it official privileges. The suggestion was rejected, but the rhetorical point was made.


With Wales electing a cluster of UKIP AMs in this year's local elections the month before the referendum, it was not entirely surprising that this traditionally Labour-voting country opted to back Leave in June.

In the ensuing days, there was no shortage of media sources aiming to explain why the principality had opted to vote the way it did, with some suggesting that the lack of a Scottish-style debate on a distinctive national identity had led voters not to consider issues of specifically Welsh interest.

Had they done so, they might have noted that Wales as a whole is a net beneficiary of EU membership. Indeed, since the vote, some papers have sought to illuminate the reasons why a country showered with regional development funding would desire to end that source of cash.

"The political landscape has fractured and split", claimed the Guardian's Carole Cadwalladr in a piece focused on Ebbw Vale, a town where 62 per cent voted Leave despite benefiting from a range of EU projects following the closure of its steelworks.

While the tangible impact of the vote remains substantially in question, the impact of the decision may be beginning to sink in, as Prime Minister David Cameron professed himself unable to offer "guarantees" about a continuation of funding should the UK leave.

Northern Ireland

Given the gravity of the situation, it was perhaps surprising that the EU Referendum debate did not pay closer attention to the fate of Northern Ireland, the only part of the country to share a land frontier with another EU nation. While voices from the territory were already warning before the Referendum about the headaches a vote to Leave might create, and the Prime Minister dangled the prospect of border checks, it took a Brexit verdict for the true implications of Out to permeate the wider public consciousness.

Now, the authors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of sectarian violence have expressed their concern that the island could face the "horrendous" prospect of a hard border. They also highlighted the high levels of EU funding that have gone to Northern Ireland in recent years.

Highlighting the particularly elevated political risks of the Northern Irish political situation, within hours of the announcement that the UK had voted to Leave, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness had called for a new vote on a united Ireland. He has gone on to insist that the two nations must continue to enjoy a privileged relationship.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, a prominent Leave campaigner, has insisted that Northern Ireland cannot enjoy a special status in relation to the EU. But politicians from the SDLP have joined Sinn Fein in vowing to fight to remain.

Meanwhile, in a sign that the population is concerned about tangible rights and not prepared to wait out the political uncertainty, media sources have highlighted a record spike in applications for Irish passports. The Northern Irish are entitled to citizenship of the Republic, as are a large number of UK citizens with Irish ancestry.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.