During the EU referendum, one of the arguments most forcefully deployed by elements of the Remain side was that a vote to leave would trigger to breakup of the United Kingdom.
The theory ran that it would so outrage public opinion in Europhile Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to be ‘dragged out’ of the EU by ‘England’, and that membership of the EU was of such paramount importance to those nations’ interests, that previously pro-Union voters would flock to the separatist cause.
Some of us thought this was a dubious prospect at the time, and said so. Scotland’s latent nationalists had already been activated by the 2014 referendum; Wales’ simply didn’t exist in anything like the numbers necessary.
Northern Ireland was a thornier case but even then, its dependence on the UK is such that the best plan the Irish Government has come up with for absorbing it includes London continuing to pay for the province, in full, for thirty years.
Some of those peddling this line were probably bluffing: Carwyn Jones would have to be extraordinarily out of touch to seriously believe that Brexit might force Wales to “choose between unions”, even if his principality hadn’t voted Leave.
But Nicola Sturgeon bet heavily on this received wisdom when she rushed to the press cameras the morning after the vote to announce her push for a second referendum. The complete absence of any Europhile wave of support has seen her administration beached for over a year in an increasingly uncomfortable position, alienating the electorate and leading to a string of painful electoral setbacks.
Gradually, and very quietly, the truth is being acknowledged: Brexit is bad news for those who want to break up our country. Here’s a very interesting titbit from Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian:
“Labour could well find an ally in the Scottish Nationalists. A senior SNP figure told me this week that Scottish independence all but depends on Brexit being cancelled: without the economic safety net of the single market, Scots won’t risk a leap out of the UK. Only a second EU vote could provide that reassurance.”
If you’ve not yet taken the time to read the article above-linked, that’s exactly what this site was arguing at the time (and being taken to task for).
Evidence of this new reality goes beyond anonymous quotes, however. We have the concrete fact that separatist MPs are openly collaborating with what Isabel Hardman styles ‘Parliament’s new tribe‘, the neo-Remain caucus being put together by Blairite Labour MPs and Tory Europhiles.
Both Plaid Cymru and the SNP’s much-reduced phalanx of MPs are signing up – and Irish nationalism is absent only because Sinn Fein have wiped out the SDLP and refuse to take their seats. These committed nationalists are not labouring against their own cause.
Naturally, this shift from “Brexit will boost the separatists” to “the separatists can help scotch Brexit” has occurred without any widespread acknowledgement that the previous argument, which was laid on thick by Remain in the run-up to the vote, was wrong.
But it’s important that unionists – for whom the UK comes first, regardless of their EU stance – raise the salience of this point. Those who demanded that Brexiteers should suborn their EU views to the best interests of the Union, when they believed those interests lay with Remain, should now be asked: the facts have changed – have you changed your minds?