Yesterday, former SNP leader Gordon Wilson raised the prospect of Scotland being ejected from the United Kingdom if it ends up providing the deciding votes for the UK to retain its EU membership in the referendum to be held on June 23rd. Specifically, he talked up the scenario in which England – with 85% of the British population – is “forced” to stay the European Union because of the potential for a strong pro-EU in Scotland cancelling out a narrow anti-EU vote in England in the overall UK-wide result, which is a scenario that the opinion polls have been consistently projecting.
Such a scenario, said Wilson, would cause a “constitutional crisis” which may result in English agitation for a referendum on its own independence which would effectively dissolve the UK and cause Scotland to become independent regardless of whether the majority of its residents want to keep the Union going.
This is total and absolute nonsense, just as is the long-running suggestion from his party that Scotland could be “dragged out” of the EU against its will if there is strong vote against the UK’s membership from the rest of the UK. Indeed, it follows in the vein of some in the SNP – as well as others, including English nationalists – to saber-rattle and stir up division amongst the people of the UK by hyping up differences and blowing them way out of proportion with suggestions of the different parts of the UK voting different ways on the EU issue and using it to suit their political purpose: the break-up of Britain.
To be clear, Wilson has not stated his position on the EU and has warned independence activists against looking at the issue through “tartan glasses” in the hope that divergent referendum votes will result in a second referendum on Scottish separation from the UK, and added that the gaining independence as a result of the “Scottish remain, English leave” scenario would be “undignified.”
Nonetheless, the fact that he brought it up fuels the fires of those whose mission it is to break up Britain and who would like nothing more than to play the grievance card by complaining about being “forced” to do this or being “dragged out” or “blocked” for that reason, all due to fact that Britons just happen to vote differently.
The SNP and those minded towards them have for years been trying to write off the EU question as the obsessions of Westminster, the Tories, UKIP, and the English. Not only is this cheek given their own constitutional obsessions, but it is a false premise given that around 60% of Scots are themselves “Euroskeptic” – slightly lower than the overall UK proportion – according most recent British Social Attitudes Survey. Nevertheless, it suits them to hype up the differences between England and Scotland, so as to further their independence agenda and claim that Scotland will be dragged out of the EU via English votes.
However, it should not matter that England has 85% of the British population because this is a UK-wide vote. Indeed, if the result is a knife-edge, I would suppose that the half of England that voted for UK membership of the EU will be quite happy that the overall vote throughout the United Kingdom resulted in the maintenance of the country’s membership of the EU, if that is what it desires.
In this binary referendum, just as with the Scottish referendum nearly two years ago, it’s all about one man, one vote, and everyone’s vote throughout the UK is equal to one another, whether they reside in Aberdeen, Liverpool, Swansea, Dover, Newcastle, Glasgow, Downpatrick, or Aberystwyth.
Above all, it must be remembered that the question on the referendum ballot will be:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of
the European Union or leave the European Union?
It will not say “Should Scotland remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”, nor will it say “Should England remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”, and still further, it will not say “Should Wales remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” or “Should Northern Ireland remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Why is that? Because, in the most respectful of terms, none of them have EU membership; the United Kingdom does, and it should be abundantly clear that whatever the outcome of the EU referendum vote in any one part of the United Kingdom – however defined – it is the overall vote throughout the United Kingdom that matters.
This means that an overall UK result in which English “Leave” votes are strong enough to take the UK out without a majority of the other Home Nations is perfectly legitimate, and the same goes for a scenario in which the “Remain” votes of the other parts of the UK are enough to keep the UK in without a majority of the English. Both results, as well as several other combinations, are legitimate as they will represent the majority will of the British people in their totality, and should not cause resentment on the part of anybody so long as the vote is conducted fairly and held to the highest electoral standards.
If the vote in England is split roughly evenly and means that the results among the rest of the UK in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales may be decisive in tilting the overall result one way or the other, then so be it.
This is why David Cameron – as a British citizen and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – has been and will be campaigning throughout the UK to press his case for keeping the UK’s EU membership (a position which puts him should-to-shoulder with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP). This is why every vote in the referendum will count equally wherever it is cast throughout the United Kingdom, and this highlights the need for every eligible citizen to be registered for voting and then actually vote on the day that really matters. In this, the people of England will be voting alongside people who are not foreigners, but their fellow Brits and only the overall result matters. The same goes for the people of Scotland and everywhere else.
As the results trickle in on the night of the referendum, they will come from each local council or district throughout the United Kingdom (save for Northern Ireland, which will be treated as a single voting area) one by one; perhaps the result from Wiltshire will be followed by the result from Midlothian, which in turn may be followed by the result in Anglesey, before all being fed into regional and national results leading up to the ultimate UK result, so that the results have no respect for the internal boundaries within the United Kingdom.
As former Labour MP Tom Harris said of Scotland in the Telegraph, the reality regarding the EU debate and referendum is this: “it’s not all about you, Scotland.” Indeed, having watched as a “significant minority of Scots took to the airwaves and the doorsteps to explain their desire for a divorce from them” during the two year long independence referendum campaign, their “English, Welsh and Northern Irish compatriots have displayed a patience above and beyond what might be required of fellow citizens.” Now that the UK is having a referendum on EU membership, it should be plainly obvious that this about the United Kingdom as a whole and not about any one part in isolation of the others. Again, this goes for England as well.
In the end, the issue of whether the UK remains a member of the EU ought to be decided on its own merits alone and the result should not used as a vehicle for other purposes – certainly not for breaking it up. Hopefully, as the late Labour MP John Mackintosh said in 1975, most people throughout Britain will focus on the main issue of EU membership. They need to think about the vote and the implications for themselves, their families, and the country in which they live – the United Kingdom – and go forward together with the decision made together as one.