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Brexit and Beyond

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Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, smiles during a EU referendum remain event, at Edinburgh airport in Scotland, June 22, 2016.
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Scotland After Brexit

Will It Leave the United Kingdom?

When Scotland went to the polls in September 2014 to decide whether it wanted to become an independent country, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister at the time, called the ballot a “once in a generation” opportunity. If the country rejected the proposition, as it eventually did by 55 to 45 percent, then his party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), would, he said, honor that decision for the foreseeable future.

However, the recent Brexit referendum has given new life to the debate about Scottish independence. Although the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU by 52 to 48 percent, Scotland voted by 62 to 38 percent to remain.

Unsurprisingly, the current SNP first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her colleagues called it a “democratic affront” that votes cast in England could take Scotland out of the EU against its will. From their perspective, the U.K.-wide decision to leave the EU perfectly illustrates how being part of the United Kingdom limits Scotland’s ability to determine its own affairs. As a result, the Scottish government is now trying to establish whether and how Scotland could retain its membership of the EU. It has convened a council of experts to advise on the options, and Sturgeon herself has already gone to Brussels to assess the lay of the land.

One suggestion is that Scotland could stay in the EU even if it is still part of a United Kingdom that has left. So far, though, nobody has demonstrated how that might be possible. The EU is, after all, a bloc of states. The only real option, then, looks to be for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and secure membership of the EU as an independent state.

There are three potential hurdles that get in the way of this option, however. The first is public opinion. While the 45 percent level of support for independence recorded in the 2014 independence referendum has shown no sign of receding—indeed, it averaged 47 percent in opinion polls conducted before the Brexit referendum—this still

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