Brexit could force the breakup of the UK, and Scotland wants to go first

A new dawn.
A new dawn.
Image: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Britain has sent shock waves across the globe after it voted to exit the European Union in a historic referendum. And some of the reverberations are being felt very close to home.

Voters in the UK chose to leave by a margin of 52% to 48%. Following the results, the British pound crashed and now sits at a 30-year low against the dollar. The results show a deeply divided United Kingdom, with England and Wales voting overwhelming to exit the EU, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

It’s unsurprising that political camps in both Scotland and Northern Ireland have used this opportunity to initiate discussion about the breakup of the United Kingdom. In 2014, Scotland rejected independence from the UK. But since that referendum, the Scottish National Party has seen the biggest electoral boost in its history, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats.

Now, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that “the option of a second independence referendum is on the table.” She argued that the Scottish parliament should have the right to a second referendum “if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

Sturgeon emphasized her priority to work in the best interest for Scotland, adding “I’m proud of Scotland and how we voted yesterday. We said clearly we don’t want to leave the European Union.” Sturgeon’s statement echoes what Alex Salmond, the former first minister, had said earlier this morning. Salmond suggested another referendum on Scottish independence could take place within two years.

Northern Ireland appears to be assessing its position in the United Kingdom, too. Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Party committed to the reunification of Ireland, has called for a referendum on a united Ireland, after slamming English voters for “dragging Northern Ireland out of the EU.” Sinn Fein’s sentiments aren’t widely shared across Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson, for instance, has welcomed Brexit, and says that the “future for Northern Ireland will be as bright as the future of the United Kingdom is going to be.”

Read more of Quartz’s coverage of Brexit: