Brexit has led to increasing demands for IndyRef2 and an NI border poll, and on principle, the British Government has not exactly been slow to rule them out. Nicola Sturgeon is making the case that Brexit is changing the opinion of a large number of people in Scotland [A major change of circumstances? – Ed] and Sinn Fein have made a similar case.
However, all of this is apparently for nothing, because James Brokenshire has to be persuaded that the majority of people in Northern Ireland would prefer NI to be part of a united Ireland, and Theresa May is not obliged to put IndyRef2 to the Westminster Parliament. So what’s the point?
At the moment, I don’t believe either referendum has a hope of winning. The population in Scotland and Northern Ireland that believes we are better off in the EU is not the same as those who believe either is better off out of the UK and in the EU (assuming Scotland can speedily gain membership of the EU as an independent country).
However, it appears that Theresa May is not willing to take that chance. Speculation suggests that they have too much to do with Brexit negotiations to be fighting referenda as well, and they do not want to risk losing.
If they did take that chance… well, both referenda are matters of head and heart. It’s not enough to persuade people that they would like an independent Scotland or a united Ireland, you also have to persuade them that they would actually be better off than under the status quo. Those voting with their hearts aren’t enough, those voting with their heads also have to be won over.
To hold either an NI referendum or a Scottish referendum in late 2018 or early 2019 would be far too early to change minds, because we don’t know how Brexit will play out. Too many people in Northern Ireland and Scotland believe that we are economically and personally better off in the UK as individuals and a society – some call it the NHS effect, but it’s far bigger than that, and the good free trade deal that we actually need would see support for the status quo shored up – and they will vote with those who will always vote for the UK as a matter of their hearts.
And then what happens?
In the case of Northern Ireland, supposing we have a referendum in 2018, and then get a bad Brexit deal or none at all. One that would make being part of a united Ireland a better economic deal for us. When is the earliest we can revisit? 2025. If NI’s economy tanks due to jobs moving to the EU very quickly post-Brexit, that’s a long time to wait.
That is it in a nutshell.
As long as the UK Government is unwilling to hold referenda on the constitutional status of Scotland and Northern Ireland, you can keep calling for them. There is no risk of losing.
If the UK Government calls their bluff, SNP and Sinn Fein risk a big “No” from the public that will put the matter to bed for years.