The United Kingdom is becoming a rather Disunited Kingdom as the devolved nations have threatened Westminster with independence referendums. At this point, any political convergence of nationalists in Scotland with Northern Ireland will challenge Westminster’s authority.
Sturgeon, O’Neill Discussed Future Relationships
The UK has faced its most serious challenge in 100 years as Scottish independence and Irish unity are invigorated. Recently, the leader of the Scottish National Party and the Vice-President of Northern Ireland’s Nationalist Party have met to discuss the situation. The meeting came after Sinn Fein secured 27 seats at Stormont, standing ahead of all other political parties in Northern Ireland. Nicola Sturgeon and Michelle O’Neill’s met in Edinburgh a few weeks after the SNP’s victory at the council elections. They have discussed the formation of an administration at Stormont and future relations between Scotland and Northern Ireland. They have discussed important issues and the shared challenges that both nations face. They have also talked about the ongoing developments regarding the establishment of a new executive in Northern Ireland. Sturgeon and O’Neill have also discussed issues around the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Protocol Pushes Northern Ireland Away from the UK
The UK and the EU agreed on the Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. However, the protocol has created a new Irish Sea border and has made trouble for businesses in Northern Ireland. The protocol allows the free transfer of goods between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But, there are checks and controls on goods passing from Britain to Northern Ireland. The Unionists of the North have opposed the continuation of the regulations. They have threatened not to join a power-sharing executive unless the UK Government removes the protocol. In that case, there will not be an administration that could make nationalists move towards Irish unity. Sinn Fein has asked for a settlement between the UK and the EU over the protocol. The party’s leader has warned that the protocol’s problems could lead to a unification referendum.
Scotland Determined to Split from London
The UK Government is facing challenges related to Northern Ireland and Scotland from all sides. The SNP has won more votes in the recent council elections ahead of the other parties. After the victory, Nicola Sturgeon has visited the US and talked to American politicians. She has told US media that the Scottish Government has planned to hold an independence referendum in 2023. The consequences of the 2016 Brexit vote have determined the SNP to hold an independence referendum. The majority of Scots voted to stay in the EU, but they had to leave the bloc against their will. The SNP’s nationwide successes in elections have refreshed a mandate for the second independence referendum. Although the Scottish government has faced Westminster’s opposition, it is determined to hold a vote on separation from London.
Westminster’s Brexit Is Divisive
Eurosceptics had argued that Brexit would restore the UK Parliament’s sovereignty to take back the nation’s affairs. The devolved nations, however, have not welcomed the separation from the EU. The votes in the 2016 EU referendum were uneven among the UK nations. The UK as a whole voted by 52% to leave. The majority of voters in both England and Wales voted to leave the European Union. But Scots voted by 62% and Northern Ireland by 56% to remain in the EU. Since the Brexit referendum, there has been talk of separation from the UK in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. During the Brexit negotiations, Westminster had the sovereignty to decide on the principles and regulations. The UK Government has undermined the devolved governments and pushed them away from the Union.
Westminster Spoiled the Nature of Devolution
The nationalist dominance in Scotland and the nationalist success in Northern Ireland could lead to a division within the UK. The vote to leave or remain in the EU has shattered the Union. Devolved administrations wanted to influence Brexit negotiations and say their piece. But they were not involved during the Brexit talks. Besides, Scotland and Northern Ireland have undergone trade problems since Brexit has placed more regulations on the transfer of goods. This has invigorated the campaign for independence in Scotland and the Irish union in Northern Ireland. Scottish nationalists prefer to stay in the EU and the nationalists of Northern Ireland prefer to unite with Ireland. Brexit has revived divisions between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. This division can result in a referendum over Irish unity which is a potential threat to the Union.
Nationalists Put Future of UK Governance in Doubt
After a Sinn Fein victory at Stormont, Sturgeon said that this threw the future of the union into doubt. The rise of nationalists has raised a fundamental question about the future of the UK as a political entity. Nicola Sturgeon has said people in devolved nations were asking questions about UK governance. She added that there would be basic changes to the UK rule in the coming years. After the Stormont election, the SNP leader claimed that the UK would change and Scotland would be independent. The recent council elections in Scotland favoured pro-independence parties, the SNP and the Greens. Sturgeon has said because of this, the SNP should deliver an independence referendum. She has mentioned that the UK cannot deny democracy and should accept the right of the people of Scotland.
SNP, Sinn Fein Could Pressurise UK
The recent meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and Michelle O’Neill will cause concern for Westminster. Although Sturgeon has said the circumstances in Northern Ireland and Scotland are different, both parties can ally for secession requests. The SNP leader has argued that the UK should treat each secession case on its own merits. Moreover, Sturgeon has emphasised that both nations have had to bear the very negative consequences of Brexit. However, her deputy has already said that Sin Fein’s victory in Northern Ireland was an opportunity for Holyrood ministers. Deputy John Swinney has said that senior politicians from both Scotland and Northern Ireland could work together to pressurise Westminster. He has said that London should address the hardships that people are going through in their daily lives. The SNP politician has added that the Northern Irish ultra-nationalist party will have more in common with the SNP.
The devolved nations have demanded that Westminster address the hardships that people have faced due to Brexit. Leaders of nationalist parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland had requested to take part in the Brexit negotiations. Westminster, however, handled the talks with the EU on its own. Brexit was incompatible with the nature of devolution and has undermined the integrity of the United Kingdom. The Brexit deal ended up treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. The deal has removed Scotland from the European Single Market and has hit its economy. The nationalist parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland have aimed to mitigate the detrimental effects of the Brexit deal on their businesses and communities. Today, the largest separatist parties are the dominant political parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The convergence of the SNP with Sinn Fein can revitalise the demands of independence and threaten the union.