With England voting for Brexit, the pillars of Britain's union are crumbling fast

In the wake of England's vote to leave the EU, the glue keeping Scotland in the UK is rapidly dissolving.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
25 June 2016

Daily Record, 25 June 2016, fair use

Centrist Scottish unionism was built on four pillars: the press, political parties, business and Britishness. Each of them seems to be crumbling. The chances of the Yes campaign winning a second independence referendum look higher than ever.

Today, the Record front page backed a "2nd Indyref". The Herald, too, has said that such a vote is ‘justified’. Neither spells out what position they would take if it goes ahead, but it is clear that Scotland’s most important tabloid and broadsheet have both softened significantly to independence after Thursday’s result.

The dynamics in Scotland’s centrist political parties have also changed significantly since 2014. Labour and the Lib Dems have been crushed, breaking the back of the organisations which ran Better Together. And whilst both parties stood firm against independence last time, each is showing cracks now. Liberal Democrat friends tell me of surprising numbers of party activists – people who campaigned vigorously for Better Together in 2014 – taking to Facebook to demand a second chance to vote for independence in Europe. If the leadership stands in the way of such a vote, a senior activist tells me, “it will be the death of the party”. Whilst leader Willie Rennie will presumably stick to his manifesto commitment to oppose independence, many activists can be expected to switch.

Labour find themselves in a similar position. Former First Minister Henry Macleish has indicated heavily that he is likely to support and campaign for independence. Malcolm Chisholm, who served as a Labour minister at both Westminster and Holyrood has tweeted his support for independence as a route to stay in the EU. I ran into Chisholm on the bus a week before the independence referendum. He predicted a Yes vote then, and clearly felt bleak about it, so this is a genuine change of heart.

Says Union effectively ended Thursday+@NicolaSturgeon has moral mandate for indyref2.Daily Record agrees and so do I

— Malcolm Chisholm (@MalcolmChishol1) June 25, 2016

Kezia Dugdale, when asked about this then hypothetical happening months ago, famously said she’d be tempted to switch to support independence. Whilst she was forced to retreat from that position, I suspect it was an honest answer about how she felt. It would be interesting to know how she feels about it now, in the quiet moment before she slips off to sleep at night. Labour were clear that they would oppose a second referendum in this context, but they clearly won’t be as united, vigorous or strong in their campaigning this time round.

Business, similarly, is less likely to align so vocally with the Union. And whilst I’m sure that many would prefer to stay in the UK, and that the markets would rather not face the added turbulence of more uncertainty, the choice between staying in a UK which has voted itself out into the cold and remaining in the world’s largest market will surely be a harder one for many who presented grim forecasts in 2014.

Finally, whilst this is harder to prove, I get the impression that, for some at least, the sense of Britishness was corroded a little in Thursday night. It’s very difficult indeed, when sat in Scotland, to look at the map of the referendum results and not feel a little like England is another country. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that in Scotland, the referendum felt like a stag-do on a raucous visit from the South Coast, which most Scots politely ignored. Now it feels like we’ve woken up to discover that they trashed the place. For many in Scotland, England has never felt further away.

Declarations that the Union is dead are premature. Before last week, polls continued to show, usually, that most Scots would prefer to stay in the UK, even in the hypothetical situation that has now arisen. Many more Scots identify with the UK than the EU, and questions of currency and borders need serious answers. But the Union had already been placed on life support in 2014, and contingent questions are always a bad judge of what people will come to think when dramatic things actually happen.

On Friday afternoon, as the dust settled on the result, a small group in Edinburgh announced on Facebook a demonstration in solidarity with migrants in the wake of the vote and the rhetoric around it. Having gathered outside the High Kirk, the crowd moved down the Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament. Growing as it moved, I’d guess it peaked at around a thousand. Many carried EU flags, or had painted circles of stars on their tops. People on the street, in overlooking flats, and in pubs cheered as the procession passed. And, on their lapels, jackets and bags, many wore a badge, dusted off from a couple of years ago, with one powerful word on it: “Yes”.

When events move fast, opinions move with them. Nicola Sturgeon has said that she will fight for Scotland’s place in the EU. She will have unprecedented support.

Migrant solidarity demo in Edinburgh after the Brexit vote, Gordon Maloney

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