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Three Years After – Scotland suffers from a Brexit it did not vote for!

by on 2023/01/30

Scotland suffers from a Brexit it did not vote for!

John Bryden[1]

It is three years now since Britain left the EU (January 2020), an event usually known as ‘Brexit’.  Brexit was a decision ratified by a 2016 national vote on one question, whether to leave or stay in the European Union – a simple majority would be binding. Voters opted to leave by a narrow margin, 52-48 percent, which was then taken to be binding on parliament. Scotland, however, which was given some devolved powers of government in 1979 from the Union of Kingdoms it joined in 1707, has already had one vote for independence in 2014 which it narrowly lost (45% to 55%). In the Brexit vote, however, 62 percent of its voters opted to remain in the EU. In Northern Ireland, 56% also opted to remain. In England (with Wales), by far the largest and the dominant partner in a UK ruled in an ever more centralized way from London, 53% voted to leave the EU and this was enough to secure a slim majority. The Scots, who now have an Edinburgh government dominated by the Scottish National Party (SNP), could thus be said to have been taken out of the EU “against the will of its people”. This has been one of the reasons for continually rising support for another independence referendum, something so far refused by the UK government in Westminster.

The formal act of separation from the EU  took another four years to become final. The main parties were split between ‘remainers’ and leavers’ in varying proportions. The Conservative (‘Tory’) government has ruled in coalition and alone with a majority continuously since 2010, supported by mainly right-wing media and a diehard faction of ‘Brexiteers’ in the party with close ties to the City of London’s financial centre. The Labour party now has a wide lead in English and Welsh opinion polls and even the Tories seem to have accepted inevitable loss in the next general election. In a national poll of January 2023, 45% of respondents thought that Brexit had made the country a worse place to live in, while only 14% thought it had improved.  The share of Britons polled on this issue has remained consistently around half and half since 2016; but now a majority thinks that Britain was wrong to leave the EU and most recently this has reached 62 percent. Yet Labour has no plans to reverse the Brexit decision, or to allow the Scots to have another independence referendum should they be elected.

The UK’s decline since 2020 has been dire. Neither the present Tory government in Westminster nor the Labour party opposition are interested in re-joining the EU or the single market. British public opinion has, nevertheless, shifted against Brexit lately for reasons linked to catastrophic economic decline, not just because of Brexit.[2] Propaganda asserting that the UK can flourish alone in the world as an ‘island nation’ has been starkly contradicted by this dramatic economic collapse, as well as by the growing chaos of Tory politics. The labour shortage caused by Brexit has strengthened the hand of the unions, long undermined by neoliberal globalization, and now manifested as an unprecedented sequence of national strikes.

Those of us who argued that Brexit was a bad idea, especially the Scots, would have predicted those economic impacts, if not the severity of the collapse of support for Brexit in England and Wales. A panelbase survey in the summer of 2022 found that 72% of Scottish voters want to join the EU again. In Scotland, the pro-independence parties remain in a strong position. The Conservatives in Westminster, like the Labour opposition there,  are still staunchly against Scottish independence. However, they seem to be indifferent to the growing rapprochement between the two Irelands whose division inside and outside Europe is the main bone of contention with the EU.

The negative economic impact of Brexit and other factors is in some ways worse in Scotland than in England. If Scots had remained in the EU, it has been estimated that gross national product has fallen by 6%, trade in goods by 7% and food prices have increased by 3% a year. Scotland now has fewer immigrants from the EU, like the rest of Britain, and this particularly affects tourism, catering, agriculture, food processing and the health services.  By 2021, exports of goods from Scotland to the EU were 19% lower than in the same period of 2018. These trends were strongest in food industries, especially fish, meat and dairy products. The beverages sector has also suffered significantly. Scotland’s five ancient universities have lost research funding and students from the EU, despite St Andrews having this year ousted Oxford and Cambridge from top place in the national university rankings. The Scottish Government has estimated that the country will be 76 billion DKK poorer by 2030 than if the country had remained in Europe.

The case for Scotland’s  democratic right to decide its own future form of governance, along with the right to re-join the EU with or without England has been enhanced by the Brexit fiasco whose ultimate victim may be the Tory party itself.  We in the Europe for Scotland movement support that democratic right. Here in Denmark we note that the Faroe Islands (which remain part of Denmark but not of the EU) have the right to negotiate their own Treaties with the EU and other nations. Although Labour has some ideas for stronger devolution throughout the UK, this does not include rights concerning international treaties and agreements, and the dream of restoring true national independence for Scotland after over 300 years of union with England is very unlikely to go away.

You can support Europe for Scotland by signing our letter to Heads of State and Government of the EU, President of the European Council, President and Members of the European Parliament, President and Members of the Commission, at

The letter is in all the main European languages, including Danish.

[1]; Fjordvej 55, 7860 Spøttrup, Denmark. John is Emeritus Professor at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

[2] See the extremely pessimistic article in the New York Times, ‘Britain’s cautionary tale of self-destruction’ (25th January 2023).

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