One of the various straws clutched at by Europhiles aggrieved with the voting public is that our vote to Leave will trigger the disintegration of the United Kingdom. Starting with the questionable premise that somewhat different voting patterns are a valid reason to break off from other regions, they posit that as majorities in Northern Ireland, London and Scotland voted to Remain, those regions will now break away from the United Kingdom. This is, to paraphrase Bentham, nonsense on stilts.
Let’s start with Northern Ireland, split 55/45 for Remain. Sinn Féin have used this as a chance to return to their monomaniacal desire for a referendum on Irish unification. Let us say that Westminster would allow it, and that an Irish government on as good terms with the UK as ever would be willing to throw that away, antagonise one of its biggest trading partners and take the pains of integrating a large new region, leaving the choice to the NI Assembly.
56 of its 108 Assembly members are declared Unionists, with another 12 belonging to parties neither officially Unionists nor Nationalist. This is to say, the only bloc that wants a referendum on uniting Ireland only composes 37% of the Assembly. Even if both Sinn Féin and the SDLP seriously tried, and even if somehow they persuaded every member of the Greens, People Before Profit and the Alliance Party to support them, they wouldn’t have a majority and so couldn’t call for a referendum. And even then, if the stars aligned and the Assembly called for it, there is no reason to believe the Northern Irish would break their pattern of only giving around 40% of their votes to the Nationalists. The calls for NI to break off, then, are Sinn Fein posturing and nothing more.
Onto London, split 60/40. This isn’t even in question, really. A few people may have expressed their frustration by petitioning Sadiq Khan, but he has displayed no interest in the possibility. The party controlling London, Labour, would become electorally unviable without London, so it isn’t about to let London go. There is, in fact, no political party supporting London independence. Leaving asides the practicalities for a moment, the point of an independent London is to remain in the EU, but a newly independent London would have to apply for EU membership in any case – it would not leave the UK to remain in the EU; it would leave the UK to try to get into the EU. The idea of London break off, then, is both unworkable and misguided.
Scotland, split 62/38 with an estimated 1/3rd of SNP members voting Leave, is the only one of the three that has a chance of breaking away – but that chance is far more remote than it may seem. To hold the referendum, Sturgeon would have to judge that she can win, which she previously indicated meant a consistent 60% majority for independence in the polls. The most recent polls only gives her 52%, and in the circumstances that may well be a ceiling, not a floor. If she persists despite her better judgement, she would have to ensure complete compliance from the SNP, which did not unanimously back Remain and whose MSPs may not unanimously back a new referendum they aren’t certain they can win. If every SNP MSP was whipped into line, and the Greens actually supported a second referendum, then there would be a majority in the Scottish Parliament for it. They could take their case to Westminster. They would be resoundingly rejected; there is no will among the Conservatives to let Scotland hold another referendum. That, perhaps, is what Sturgeon wants; to have a grievance to run on in 2020, distracting the Scottish people from the myriad failings of her government.
Even if there were to be a new referendum, though, we must remember that an independent Scotland would have to negotiate entry to the EU, it would have not get to keep the Pound and quite probably have to live with the Euro, and the enormously lower oil revenues than once expected render even the optimistic fiscal plans they had before the last referendum unworkable. It would also lose the £15 billion transferred to its government by Westminster every year. Scotland would, then, be leaving the UK so that it can be in neither the UK nor the EU, but in limbo attempting to gain entry to the famously slow EU. That – along with the fact Scotland has far more in common with the UK than the rest of the EU – would be very clear in any referendum, and with support for Scottish independence barely breaking 52% even now, means the chances of the SNP winning any new referendum is vanishingly slight.
In conclusion, ignore the hype – the United Kingdom isn’t going anywhere.