EU referendum: The Reverse Sturgeon Option?

From Eirigi's Facebook page
From Eirigi’s Facebook page

The activities of dissident Irish republican groups is clearly something on the minds of many in Northern Ireland and Westminster. Following-on from the Home Secretary’s warning last month that a fresh attack was “a strong possibility” a number of arrests have been made at the gatherings of various dissident groups in different parts of Northern Ireland. One such recent event gathered less attention, on Saturday the hard-line republican group Éirígí launched their campaign for a  “Leave” vote in the EU campaign. While they seemed to have avoided using an obvious slogan of “Brits Out” they have borrowed much of their language from the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, claiming the EU hinders democracy and freedom. On social media they recently hailed an article by economist David McWilliams (perhaps an unlikely ally of a supposedly socialist “revolutionary” party) suggesting that a so-called “Brexit could lead to a United Ireland and sooner rather than later.

The idea that a UK departure from the EU could imperil the union is not a new one and the Scottish First Minister’s assertion that “Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will” would act as a trigger a second Sottish independence referendum lends some credibility to the suggestion.

However the National Centre for Social Research came up with an interesting poll last week regarding the spread of polls across the UK. It suggested that:

Because the backing for the EU is so much higher in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, their pro-EU vote could swing the result narrowly in favour of staying in. If the English pro-EU vote was less than 47.5%, the overall UK vote would be to leave.

This poll had support in NI as high as 75% for remaining in the EU, which would seem to confirm the suggestions in a recent Belfast Telegraph article that the cross-party ‘Remain’ campaign in Northern Ireland is ahead by some distance.

Over in Scotland polls also seem high for the remain side, the NCSR said it was at 64%, while a recent Daily Record poll had it at 75%.  The high-margins in Northern Ireland and Scotland it seems could be able to a tip an English  or English and Welsh balance. This scenario was refereed to by one sharp-witted tweeter as a “reverse-Sturgeon” whereby the Scottish nationalist trigger is de-activated by Scottish voters.

While there is considerable mistrust of opinion polls if this scenario were to occur it could still have severe consequences for the UK’s internal politics post-referendum. Although he could claim to have won David Cameron’s position would hardly be strengthened, his internal rivals could accuse him of being in the pocket of the SNP (didn’t they try that with a Miliband before?!) and he could be accused of lacking the authority over his own party . One Conservative MP was quoted in the New Statesman as saying such a scenario “…could be an unprecedented constitutional crisis”. Meanwhile UKIP and Boris Johnson, armed with a fresh and potentially popular grievance could spy fresh opportunities to undermine the Prime Minister if he were to stoke the potentially destructive flames of English nationalism.

In Northern Ireland the EU vote now seems to resemble the Good Friday Agreement referendum in 1998 in terms of were the parties stand on the issue, although in contrast to that vote it seems less likely that there will be much of an after taste regardless of result, focus will likely return to the new Stormont executive and its functioning. But leave or remain in the EU, governing at Westminster could get ever more complicated after 23 June.