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Scotland: Will It Become An Independent Country?

On Dec. 22, 2022, the Scottish Parliament voted on its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. This bill allows anyone over the age of 16 (instead of 18) to legally change their assigned-at-birth gender on all official documents. The bill passed by a majority of 89 to 39.

The bill was applauded by many people, but it was also criticized by some sectors of the U.K. government. For the first time in history, the bill triggered Section 35 of the Scotland Act according to the U.K. government. This unprecedented action allowed the U.K. government to block this gender recognition legislation from becoming law in Scotland.

The recent debate over the bill also re-introduced some burning questions in the U.K., such as what is the point of having a devolved Scottish Parliament, if the British Parliament in London can override and block any legislation that Scotland tries to pass? And if the Scottish government is unable to improve the lives of Scottish people, why shouldn’t it just split itself from the U.K.’s Parliament?

Scotland’s Devolution and the Difference Between Devolved and Reserved Matters

Devolution is the decentralization of power and security that allows it to be closer to the citizenry. The BBC notes that the referendum for the devolution of Scotland took place in 1997, with the people of Scotland voting for the creation of a Scottish Parliament that would be separate from the British Parliament.  

Since its introduction, the matters dealt with by the Scottish Parliament are split into devolved matters and reserved matters. Devolved matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament that subsequently votes on – and regularly passes laws – that affect the people of Scotland.

By contrast, reserved matters fall within the jurisdiction of the U.K.’s Parliament. As a result, any laws pertaining to reserved matters cannot be passed exclusively by the Scotland’s Parliament.

According to the Scottish Parliament website, devolved matters include: Agriculture, forestry and fisheries; economic development; education and training; elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government; environment; fire services; freedom of information; health and social services; housing; justice and policing; local government; sports and the arts; tourism; and some aspects of equality legislation.

Reserved matters include: Betting and gambling; broadcasting; The U.K. Constitution; consumer protection policy; currency; data protection; defense and national security; elections to the U.K. Parliament; employment law and industrial relations; financial services; foreign affairs; immigration, asylum and visas; nationality and citizenship; postal services; telecommunications; trade and industry; and most aspects of equality legislation.

As equality legislation is a mostly reserved matter, the U.K.’s Parliament was able to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish Independence Movement

The current ruling party in the Scottish Parliament is the Scottish National Party. This party is pro-independence and wants Scotland to break away from the U.K. and become its own sovereign state.

The last referendum on Scottish independence was held on Sept. 18, 2014, according to the BBC. The question asked to all residents of Scotland was, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Voters answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” After the vote, “No” came out on top with 55%, so Scotland remained part of the U.K.

Afterward, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron controversially said that the issue of Scottish independence was “settled for a generation,” according to Reuters. Since that time, any calls for a new referendum have been rejected.

However, the massive wins for the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2019 general election show that the issue of Scottish independence is still a hot topic despite Cameron’s claim.   

[Related article: The Origins and Implications of an Independent Scotland]

The Impact of Brexit on Scotland

Prior to the recent gender recognition reform bill, Brexit was another issue that increased the call for an independent Scotland.

In the Brexit referendum in 2016, the Scottish people overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union (E.U.), with 62% of the vote. The BBC notes that every council in Scotland returned a majority.

Within Scotland, Brexit is seen as an economically illiterate disaster unwillingly imposed on them by the rest of the U.K., according to the Scottish government. Seven years after Brexit, none of the promised benefits of Brexit have come to fruition, which has built up some major resentment in Scotland.

An independent Scotland could re-enter the EU as a separate nation. This idea has seen the prospect of a second independence referendum gain support. Furthermore, an independent Scotland joining the EU would increase calls from the rest of the U.K. to join the E.U., too.

The U.K. government has steadfastly refused any chance of the U.K. re-joining the E.U. As a result, independence may be the only chance for Scotland to reverse its own involuntary expulsion from the E.U.

Will Scottish Independence Mean the End of the UK?

Time will tell if the Scottish National Party will ever be allowed to call another Scottish independence referendum. But the impact of Brexit, the obstacles faced by the Scottish Parliament and the general anger towards the U.K. government’s arbitrary dismissal of causes that Scotland holds dear might well lead to the end of the United Kingdom in the future.

Arran Appleton is a resident of the United Kingdom. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Hertfordshire and holds a master's degree in English Literature and Culture – also from the University of Hertfordshire.

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