Pro-independence party’s win in Scotland could threaten U.K.’s unity

The results of a recent election in Scotland can be described as one of the side effects of Britain’s departure from the European Union. The administration of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face a challenge over how to deal with a movement to seek Scottish independence that could threaten the unity of the United Kingdom.

In a parliamentary election in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which seeks independence from the United Kingdom and aims to join the EU, maintained the position as the largest party in the assembly by increasing its number of seats. The SNP and a smaller pro-independence party secured a majority.

The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Increased momentum in the movement for independence in Scotland, which accounts for 32% of Britain’s territory and 8% of its population, could heighten the risk of the kingdom being ripped apart.

The SNP leader vowed to hold a referendum on Scottish independence after the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control. Johnson has said that a referendum should not be conducted too hastily.

Scots voted against independence in a 2014 referendum. It is natural for Johnson to be cautious over the idea that a critical issue that could shake the foundation of his country would once again be left up to a referendum.

Britain’s departure from the EU has been a major factor behind the increased momentum in the movement for independence in Scotland, where the majority wanted Britain to remain in the EU. Pro-EU Scots still have bitter feelings that their will was not respected in the shadow of England, which dominates the United Kingdom both in terms of population and size.

The SNP gained more support apparently by taking advantage of criticism against Johnson, who was a prominent figure in pushing for Brexit.

However, many questions have arisen over the SNP’s assertions that Scotland could become richer and fairer once it gains independence. The feasibility of such claims should be scrutinized in relation to issues including Scotland’s fiscal conditions, currency and whether to join the EU.

Scotland has already enjoyed greater autonomy in such areas as education and part of the tax system. It is essential for the Johnson administration to discuss with the Scottish government issues that can affect the United Kingdom as a whole, such as how to strengthen the medical system amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and to reflect Scotland’s opinions in its policies.

It is also important to improve relations with the EU to ease Scots’ distrust of Downing Street.

Following Brexit, export costs are rising because customs procedures are now required for EU trade. The fishing industry and other sectors have reportedly been hit hard by the changes. Establishing how to smoothly facilitate trade procedures between Britain and the EU has become an urgent issue.

Northern Ireland has been the scene of bloody conflicts in the past regarding the issue of whether it should be part of the United Kingdom or Ireland. There are concerns that conflicts could be reignited on the heels of Brexit. The United Kingdom and the EU should keep an eye on the situation to ensure that the delicate balance in Northern Ireland is not disrupted.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 15, 2021.