by Prof Keith Shaw

Despite the triumph of the ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum, and the subsequent offer of more economic and fiscal powers to Scotland by the UK Government, it is hard not to view – as somewhat complacent – David Cameron’s immediate-post referendum statement that Scottish independence has now ‘been removed from the political agenda for a generation’. Indeed, the size of the ‘Yes’ Vote in the referendum (45% of voters wanted to leave the UK), the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) stunning electoral performance in May 2015 and their continued criticism of the UK Government’s ‘limited’ devolution offer, have all ensured that the issue of even greater devolution to Scotland remains firmly on the political agenda.

More recently, the Scottish Government have also made it clear that victory for the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the June 2016 UK Referendum on EU Membership, will add additional momentum to calls for a second Scottish independence vote in a country which is more pro-EU than England and which has benefited from extensive levels of European funding over the last four decades. Elsewhere in the so-called devolved administrations, in Wales, support for continued EU membership had consistently led polls over the past 15 months. Not surprising then, that both the first ministers of both Scotland and Wales have also issued a joint statement saying it would be “unacceptable” for the UK to leave the EU against the wishes of people in Scotland and Wales.

In a similar vein, a recent report for the Stormont Assembly predicted that the Northern Ireland Economy would lose some €1 billion per annum following a Brexit and face a 3% decline in GDP. Not surprising then, that 4 out of 5 of the main parties in Northern Ireland are committed to saying in the EU. The implications for EU withdrawal for Northern Ireland would also be different from that in the rest of the UK in that NI is the only region of the UK to share a land border with another EU Member State – the Republic of Ireland.  Withdrawal would mean that an external border of the EU would run through the island of Ireland. The level of concern shown by the Irish Government in Dublin continues to grow, as the Republic fears that Brexit would seriously undermine its relations with the UK, one of Ireland’s biggest trading partners which could have a big impact on the Irish economy just recovering from a deep recession.

Hence, not only would a vote to leave in the June 23rd referendum precipitate a call for a second referendum in the pro-EU Scotland, but is likely to further destabilise the relationship between the UK government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, the improvements in recent decades of the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland are also threatened by Brexit. Whatever the major economic, social and political arguments for – and against – continued EU membership for the UK, the uncertainty created by the EU referendum will have profound implications for the devolution process within the UK, for Westminster’s  relationship with the devolved administrations and with its near neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. We may even be faced with the irony of a governing party strongly committed to maintaining the Union having to preside over a chain of events that could, ultimately, result in the U.K. moving further down the road to becoming a federal state or even herald the break-up of Britain