[ADVISORY: Adult Content] Why Brexit might, but probably won’t, lead to Sexit

Later this month Britons will head to the polls to vote on whether or not the UK should remain in the European Union, AKA “Brexit.” Some very recent pollingvery recent polling suggests that support for leaving the EU has surged to around 55% of the British electorate, so there seems like a pretty fair chance that Brexit could actually happen.

This doesn’t really have much to do with the price of tea in China, so to speak, as far as this blog is concerned–I took some interest in the Grexit affair because it was a clear statement on the EU’s dysfunctionality and could have had serious ramifications for US foreign policy. Brexit is only related to that case in that the EU is involved. Britain is a relatively wealthy, relatively powerful nation whose people may opt to leave the EU of their own accord because, ew, immigrants and ew, Turks.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Farage speaks during an interview with Reuters in London
Though to be fair, I can definitely see why Brexit fans would be squicked out by the idea of funny-looking foreigners flooding Britain’s shores.

Greece, on the other hand, is a relatively poor, relatively weak nation whose people were being forced out of the EU despite their stated desire to stay in because their country hadn’t debased itself sufficiently for the tastes of German banking elites. I’ve already pointed out why I think the EU, or at least the Euro, is a dubious proposition at best, but the UK has a sweetheart arrangement with the EU where they haven’t been, and won’t be, forced to sacrifice their sovereign authority to mint their own currency.

Now, if the UK leaves the EU, they almost certainly won’t be the last ones out the door, and in that sense whatever happens on June 23 will be and should be watched closely. I’m not saying this isn’t a big story, just that, like the state of Bhutanese foreign relations (which are also important!), it’s not one that I’m inclined, or able, to cover very intensely.

But there is one aspect of the Brexit story that I find particularly interesting, and that’s the extent to which a UK departure from the EU might reopen the question of a Scottish departure from the UK. See, unlike the UK overall, where the question of staying or leaving the EU is pretty much a dead heat, and especially unlike England, where “leave” is clearly leading in the polls, in Scotland people really want to stay in the EU. They want to stay so much that, if turnout in Scotland is high enough, they could keep Britain in the EU even if a majority in England votes to leave. In that case, maybe English voters will push for a vote on kicking Scotland out of the UK. But what happens if the UK votes to leave, against the wishes of a majority of Scots? Might we see a renewed Scottish independence movement, and perhaps even a Scottish vote to leave the UK? That’s certainly one argument that David Cameron is using to try to scare Britons into voting against Brexit.

But here’s the thing: polling in Scotland suggests that the number of people who would want to leave the UK if the UK were to leave the EU (44 percent) is statistically identical to the number of people who voted to leave the UK in 2014 (just shy of 45 percent). So there’s literally zero indication that the EU question moves the needle on Scottish independence in any way. Of course, asking people to respond to a hypothetical may not result in an accurate reflection of what they’ll do if the hypothetical becomes reality. And it’s very possible that the desire for Scottish independence will increase a few months or years after Brexit. But the Scottish National Party, which dominates Scottish politics these days, won’t even attempt a second referendum on independence unless polls start to show ~60% support for it, because losing a second independence vote would basically kill the issue and, along with it, the SNP’s whole raison d’être. So, while anything can happen in the long-run, at least for now, I wouldn’t expect Brexit to lead to Sexit (sorry, there’s that adult content you were warned about).



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