What is to come for The United Kingdom?
The thread tying four countries into one is fraying, and little is being done to tie them together again.
16st June 2021 13:00 BST
After the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, many Britons let out a sigh of relief. The vast majority of non-Scots wanted them to remain in the union, figuring that the UK were stronger together. It seemed that their worries were now over and that whist Scots wanted more representation, which was shown by the dominance of the SNP, they didn’t want independence. It was final.
But then, two years later, Brexit happened, and the UK’s political climate has never been the same since. At first, it was the Scots that were unhappy. Whilst England were the only country in the UK to vote in favour of Brexit, Scotland were the angriest at the result. Considering that one of the biggest factors that kept them in the UK back in 2014 was that they may have to leave the EU if they left the UK, to be forced out just two years later was harsh.
Calls for independence rose once again, but Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, knew she had a tough job on her hands getting another referendum through Parliament. The Tory government have always been against Scottish Independence, and Johnson currently holds a strong and clear stance. There will be no referendum any time soon. The SNP had their chance 7 years ago and the people spoke. The SNP is yet to accept this answer, and with a Scottish election this month, the people may have a chance to speak again.
These elections are heating up too. When Alex Salmond, ex-leader of the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s predecessor announced he was forming a new party, Alba, he had clear intentions: Independence. Just a small amount of success for him may be enough to persuade the SNP that their tactics for independence are weak. Whilst he’s not planning on just holding an election because who says he can’t, he can do what he wants – what I would call Catalan style – his ideas aren’t far off.
He criticises the SNP for ‘worshipping Section 30’, the more formal exit strategy, instead saying that an election itself justifies independence, like the break-up of Czechoslovakia in the 90s. The creation of Alba can go one of three ways. Possibly the most likely outcome is that Salmond wins so few seats that Scotland continues how it currently is. The other two are that Alba is a success, and then either proves to Parliament that Scots want Independence above all else, or Alba and the SNP cannot co-ordinate and everyone ends up worse off. It seems only time will tell.
But now on to Northern Ireland. Whilst Northern Ireland did vote remain in 2016, their quarrels began at the end of 2020. When Boris Johnson signed the deal with the EU and Britons rejoiced at the aversion of the terrifying ‘no-deal Brexit’, many failed to remember that some UK residents don’t live on the Isles of Great Briton. The United Kingdom of Great Briton and Northern Ireland have often forgotten and neglected those final two words, and it seems that Johnson did too in his deal.
No hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was decided early on in the negotiation process, but what the alternative would be was seemingly brushed aside. Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, agreed to step down from both that role and DUP leader after 4/5 of her party signed a letter of no confidence. She believes she has been betrayed by Boris Johnson, who placed a border in the Irish Sea instead of in Ireland, breaking the bond she and her party fight so strongly to uphold.
But she may have had a chance to retain her border-free dreams. Had she accepted Theresa May’s much softer Brexit deal, this would not be an issue, but she didn’t and now it is. Months of rioting from Unionists has followed, and Northern Ireland is in a troubled state again. A united Ireland has never looked more likely. Again, we will have to wait for elections, this time in early May next year. Success for Sinn Fein and the SDLP could be possible, with unionist votes being split between the smaller parties after they feel that they have been betrayed by the DUP.
Union is in a perilous state, with two of the four countries hanging by a thread with crucial elections looming. Many politicians don’t see the end of the union as an issue, believing it is so far-fetched and unlikely that there is no need to pay it any attention, but this only makes it more likely. Johnson and his government must do something fast, or else he may be remembered as the man who destroyed a union, not the man that left a different one.