Will Scotland ever gain independence?

Scottish independenceOut of the UK and into the EU?

Hundreds of people gathered in Edinburgh outside Holyrood on the evening of January 31st, Brexit. At the seat of the Scottish Parliament, they wave the Scottish national flags - a white St. Andrew's cross on a blue background - and the European flag, which, according to a decision by the Scottish Parliament, may continue to fly over Holyrood, the parliament building. Sadness, defiance and hope characterize the mood on this rainy evening. Some lit candles.

"Leave the lights on in the European Parliament for us. We want to go back there. Almost two thirds of the people in Scotland voted to stay in the EU, but our votes were ignored. The British House of Commons simply ignored all the proposals of the Scottish Parliament."

"Westminster decides against our interests and we have to pay for it!" Proponents of independence are making this argument more and more frequently. They do not expect anything from the conservative government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, especially since it has governed with a solid majority since the last election in December: With a 43.6 percent share of the vote, the Tories won a majority of 80 seats in the British lower house due to the majority vote.

"As the British government is making absolutely no move to negotiate with Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, and negotiations or a compromise seem impossible, the only way left is to achieve independence. That is it! Our future lies in Europe."

These days, in the northernmost part of the UK, there are few people excited about leaving the EU. However, many still doubt whether independence is the right way to reverse the decision in favor of the Scots. Pam Nash, like 62 percent of Scots, voted to remain in the EU. As managing director of "Scotland in Union", however, she vehemently advocates staying in the United Kingdom.

"The reason for the existence of the SNP is based on breaking Scotland out of the United Kingdom. It will always instrumentalize current events for the goal of independence. Whatever the consequences of Brexit for Scotland, they will not be resolved by our leaving the United Kingdom . "

Narrow majority for independence

However, the barometer of sentiment is turning more and more towards independence. An opinion poll by You Gov even attested a majority of 51 percent for independence for the first time in a long time. In the 2014 referendum, 55 percent voted for Scotland to remain in Great Britain.

Evil tongues claim: Brexit suits the Scottish National Party (SNP) very well. Because in 2014 it was said: An independent Scotland would not automatically become part of the European Union, but would have to renegotiate its membership status. Now the very pro European Scots are flying out of the EU because they stayed in the UK. In 2014, however, it was also said that this was a decision that would apply to an entire generation.

With reference to this argument, London has so far stubbornly refused to even consider a second independence referendum at the moment. According to TV journalist Colin Mackay from STV, Brexit will act as an accelerator for independence.

"Without Brexit there would be no discussion about independence. What the politicians in the south have to accept, especially the conservative party, which also calls itself unionist, is that their pursuit of Brexit has strengthened the independence movement, and it will continue to do so Get stronger."

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Some Scots even voted against their belief in Brexit to pave the way for independence. Stirling's liquor dealer Stephen Moore is one of them.

"I voted for Brexit for purely tactical reasons. I didn't want to leave the EU, but as a nationalist I wanted to force a second referendum. And then I want Scotland to take its place at the table of European partners."

Even before Great Britain left the EU on January 31, the Scottish regional parliament set the course for a second independence referendum. With 64 votes to 54 the MEPs in Edinburgh approved the resolution for a new referendum - called Indy2.

There is no time to lose for Scotland's Prime Minister, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. On the day of Brexit, she therefore scheduled a press conference to put forward her credo of a referendum once again this year like a prayer wheel:

"The timing is crucial. I didn't dream the date - but we have to avoid the damage caused by Brexit and get back on the right path. That's why I advocate an independence referendum this year. However, as soon as we get the referendum, and it will come, it has to take place in the legal framework that allows us to decide in favor of independence, and to implement this decision. That is what I am working towards. "

Nicola Sturgeon has been Scotland's First Minister since 2014 (imago / Andrew Milligan)

The strategy is obvious: Nicola Sturgeon wants to use the current pro-EU and anti-Brexit sentiment. Even with a pro independence vote this year, a quasi-automatic membership in the EU would be an illusion. Of course, Scotland still has EU-compliant legislation, but the 27 EU states would not be able to accept Scotland as a member of the EU without targeted negotiations on access to the EU financial pots, on questions of financing and fisheries, for example.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson blocks

In any case, London is persistently showing the red card: A second independence referendum is out of the question for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This is what he said in a television debate before the election:

"I can absolutely rule out any referendum. I think that would be bad for our country. This is not the way forward now. We have to respect democracy, get the economy going. This is a transformation agenda for a nation and we want that work off. "

And even after the election, Boris Johnson left no doubts. The British Prime Minister announced in writing to Scotland's First Minister his rejection of a second independence referendum: As an opportunity in a generation, the 2014 referendum had been agreed - according to Johnson - so there was no reason to vote again. And according to the autonomy legislation, London must agree. Really? Opinions are divided on this question, as Christine Bell, constitutional lawyer at the University of Edinburgh, emphasizes:

"There is constitutional dispute as to whether Scotland needs approval for a second referendum. Last time this question was not resolved because the British and Scottish governments had agreed on an independence referendum and the framework for it. That means, however, that the Scottish government cannot simply Let vote without the courts having clarified this beforehand. "

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A judicial clarification is tedious. The independence dynamics gained through Brexit could weaken. Nevertheless, the Scottish nationalists do not want to go the Catalan route of a non-constitutional referendum. Constitutional Minister Michael Russel:

"We have always said that we only act constitutionally and legally because the EU only recognizes this way. The question of independence is a political one, not a legal one, but of course there is a lot of discussion about it in Scotland. The government's job is to find out, what works. And so far I am not convinced that legal recourse is the right one. But that could change. "

So the Scottish nationalists keep all options open. First of all, the party wants to continue persuading and will also make more funds available for its independence campaign.

The dream of a different society

An independent Scotland is being propagated in the EU, in which the Queen could definitely remain head of state and the pound should remain the currency - provided the Bank of England participates. The introduction of a Scottish pound or the euro would also be conceivable. Above all, an independent Scotland could set the tone for a more progressive society, believes Pat Kane, writer and musician with the band Hue and Cry.

"If we voted for independence, we would have 20 or 30 fantastic years ahead of us. If not Scotland, who else would have the resources and prerequisites for independence? The coming decades will be decisive: from an ecological, technological or geopolitical perspective. How great it would be to be part of a country that negotiates the new developments and makes the most of them by using its resources and people to create an exemplary society. "

Indeed, the Scottish National Party, SNP, is striving for a completely different model of society than the Conservatives in London. Ecological, social, anti-nuclear are some of the key words.

The SNP was founded in 1934 as a merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. For many years the SNP remained largely insignificant. The Labor government of Tony Blair then paved the way for the partial autonomy of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales at the end of the last century. In a referendum in 1997, a large majority of Scots voted for a separate parliament with partial tax sovereignty. Education, health, social affairs, housing, justice and police, the environment, agriculture, forestry and fishing, sport, tourism, and business and transport are all competencies of the Scottish Parliament and Government.

Left nationalism

First, Scotland was ruled by Labor. However, since 2007 the Scottish National Party, SNP, has been running the government. National is part of the name and program of the SNP, but it is not about exclusionary, but civil nationalism, explains Andreas Wolff, who works as a German for the BBC's Gaelic program.

"The Scottish National Party is certainly not right-wing extremist, is more likely to be located slightly to the left of the political center, comparable to an SPD or something, and is also clearly internationalist. So the Scots don't want to isolate themselves from the world, they want on the contrary, sit back at the European table and participate in the family of Europeans. "

Historically, Scotland has always felt closer to the continent than England. This can be felt most clearly in the judiciary: the judiciary in Scotland is Dutch-Roman. The Act of Union in 1707 stipulated that Scotland was allowed to maintain its own legal system, which to this day differs significantly from the English "common law". Law professor Christine Bell from the University of Edinburgh:

"The biggest differences are in land law. Some core elements of criminal law differ. The best-known example is a judgment that can be 'guilt not proven' as opposed to guilty or innocent in the rest of the UK. Furthermore, one has always existed own judicial structure in the Scottish judicial system, even before the partial autonomy. It was only with the establishment of the British Supreme Court in 2009 and the human rights legislation that a right of appeal was created beyond the Scottish courts.

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Fundamental differences between Scotland and England also existed and still exist in the education system: the basic course in Scotland is designed for four years, in England for three years. While there are tuition fees to be paid in England, Scottish and EU students in Scotland do not have to pay for their undergraduate studies. Above all, however, the Scots have always viewed themselves as a separate nation: Scotland competes as a nation in rugby and football - as does Wales and Northern Ireland.

The reference to tartan skirt, i.e. the kilt, plaid and bagpipes, may seem clichéd. To this day, however, these cultural characteristics of identity have endured and serve to celebrate Scottish identity - perhaps precisely because there have been repeated attempts throughout history to suppress them and subordinate them to English customs.

For many Scots, the union with England was never a love affair, especially since not only cultural characteristics but also the Gaelic language were systematically marginalized, with the result that nowadays just one percent of Scots speak the original language as their mother tongue. Love hate relationship? Community of convenience? Harmonious Union? What is the 313 year unification - the union between Scotland and England, or Scotland and the rest of the UK? She is a mix of everything. The Brexit, which was rejected by the majority of Scots, created a new distance, above all from England and Wales, the pro-Brexit parts of the country, and strengthened the Scottish identity - with different consequences:

"I'm Scottish and proud of it, but that doesn't mean I'm for independence."

The kilt is still used as a symbol for Scottish identity (dpa / Franz-Peter Tschauner)

"I want an independence referendum as soon as possible. 62 percent voted for the EU and now we are leaving the EU against our will. 62 percent compared to the 52 percent for Brexit in England is convincing!"

More and more of the nearly five and a half million Scots think like the craftsman Alan Waldron. Although, according to the survey, many want to wait and see what Brexit brings them before they decide again on such a fateful question in a second independence referendum.

Independence could be expensive

In any case, many people ask themselves whether and how an independent Scotland could exist. Pam Nash from the pro UK organization "Scotland in Union":

"As part of the UK, every Scot gets close to £ 2,000 a year: that's what we call the UK dividend. It's the difference between public spending and tax revenue. And trade with the rest of the UK is three times our volume with the EU. But it's more than about finances. It's about our common culture, history and future. And I think we are better off in the UK. "

Other estimates put the UK dividend at just around £ 1,200. The fact is, however: Scotland benefits from the rich English south, especially since the income from oil and gas, which is mostly extracted in Scottish waters, is less profitable.

The critics of the aspirations for independence also calculate: With seven percent higher public expenditure than income, Scotland would not meet the Maastricht stability criteria of the EU. 545,000 jobs would be secured by the economic ties with the rest of the United Kingdom and a large part of the research funding for universities came from London.

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Scotland's economy does three-fifths of its business with the rest of the UK: Without a far-reaching agreement on the free movement of goods and people between an EU with Scotland and the rest of the UK, there would inevitably be a hard border between England and Scotland. The question of defense and the nuclear submarines stationed in Scotland should also be clarified.

Scottish independence, the break in the union that has lasted for more than three centuries, would have far-reaching consequences. The public debate is currently dominated by disappointment with Brexit and leaves little room for reflection on fundamental questions about the head of state, currency, defense, sources of income, borders and the independence of an independent Scotland.

It is precisely these questions that need to be clarified and explained before the voters are confronted a second time with a simplistic question such as: Do you want Scotland to become independent? The Scottish National Party will not give up, otherwise it would lose its right to exist.

Given the negative attitude of London, a referendum this year seems almost impossible. However, a new Scottish regional parliament will be elected next year. The SNP's program is already set: independence! Former communications advisor to the Scottish Tories Andy Macgiver.

"The SNP will stand up with the clear demands for a second independence referendum. Everyone will know what they are voting for. If the SNP wins and provides the government, it will be very difficult, even illegitimate, for Westminster to refuse a second referendum. And I believe in that case it will be given to them. "