The millions of votes cast across Scotland Thursday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

In the vote for parliamentary elections, the pro-independence Scottish National Party fell short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

In the 2014 referendum, Scots rejected independence by a decisive margin, 55 percent to 45 percent. That was supposed to resolve the issue for a generation but two years later came the Brexit vote, and that radically altered the landscape.

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