Why would the UK Parliament consent to a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom (henceforth Scexit)?

Disclaimers against deus ex machina. Rule out black swans.

  1. No superweapons. The change must be realistically justified.

  2. No impacts by astronomical objects or natural disasters. A tsunami, earthquake, meteorite or asteroid, disease can't suddenly impact just England, but not Scotland.

  3. No sudden increases in wealth. Scotland can't just suddenly discover gold or precious minerals, and pay the U.K. for independence.

On Dec. 1 2020, Scotland’s First Minister [Nicola Sturgeon] said she will use next May’s Holyrood election to try to win a mandate to hold an independence referendum “in the early part of the new Parliament”. Here's why I can't imagine how this will happen before the next UK general election on 2 May 2024.

  1. I can't imagine why Boris Johnson would reverse his rejection in January 2020.

Nicola Sturgeon's request for a referendum was rejected by the UK government in January 2020.[62] In his official response, Boris Johnson wrote that Sturgeon and Salmond had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote, that both the Scottish and UK governments had pledged to implement the outcome of that vote, and that his government "cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums".[[62]](en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposed_second_Scottish_independence_referendum#cite_note-bbc2020-62)

However, the UK government has repeatedly said it would not grant the consent that Ms Sturgeon has argued would be needed if any referendum was to be legal. And Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said there should not be another referendum for "25 or 40 years".

  1. The UK government and SNP (Scottish National Party) won't hold a referendum amidst COVID19, which has to be mitigated and curbed first. Two-thirds of SNP voters want Covid recovery before Scottish independence referendum.

  2. The SNP can't use violence, not only because Scotland doesn't have its own military, but because Scotland voted 62% against Brexit and the EU will refuse to admit Scotland if they get violent. And the British Armed Forces can probably suppress any attempt at violence.

Post Script

Why was this closed? It's sufficiently just like Can an independent country join the commonwealth?, How can I convince the Maritimes to join the thirteen colonies?.

Politics closed https://politics.stackexchange.com/q/61049. I'm personally interested in seeing more answers than just the one.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that I see the World-building relevance. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Dec 31, 2020 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ Few points to keep in mind: we require questions to provide an evaluation metric. Brainstorming for ideas is not what we do here. That other SE closed your question doesn't mean we will accept it. And once you get answers, it's highly advisable to wait at least 24 hours before accepting one, if you really want to see more answers. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 31, 2020 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ I can see some worldbuilding relevance here. We're building an alternate-reality for the near-future (I added the tag, I hope you don't mind). That's no different than any number of questions asking about near-future technological advancements. My personal hope is that no answer puts us all on the world's terrorist watchlists for coming up with a practical method of influencing a national election. Please remember, Excontractu, we're willing to provide you with plausible or suspension-of-disbelief answers, but we wholeheartedly declare that we're not providing a roadmap. 😁 $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 31, 2020 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ The Post Script does not seem to improve the Question. To me, it seems more like a complaint (tends to be counterproductive). @JBH pointed you to a valid world-building rationale for the Question. I gently suggest you edit your question to run with that. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Dec 31, 2020 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ I've voted to reopen this question. If someone disagrees with me, please provide an explanation as to why designing a future isn't worldbuilding. I see no difference between crafting even a near-future Earth history and crafting an alien history. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 1, 2021 at 4:28

4 Answers 4


Simple: The virus keeps going. The experimental vaccines are either ineffective, or yet another new strain develops.

There's a great deal of lockdown and suffering, and the UK ends up cutting Scotland's aid out of desperation. After pleas for assistance fall on death ears, sentiment for the UK reaches a new low. Due to popular demand (possibly armed), the SNP either changes its mind on a referendum, or a new party is installed in order to hold a referendum. It's greatly in favour of leaving the UK, and so Scotland announces its independence. Due to the intense level of lockdown and chaos, the UK can't do anything to stop it but make empty protests and threats.

Alternatively, Scotland negotiates its independence from the UK, the same way India did. And, lacking the resources to keep or benefit from Scotland, being busy with the pandemic, the UK changes its policy and agrees. If you think Boris would never agree to that even when desperate, consider that he might develop the longhauler autoimmune disease common after having the virus, or be reinfected with the new strain of the virus, and so be replaced due to poor health.

You might also need another power to be doing better during this time, who can act as Scotland's Guarantee for its independence. It could ally with Ireland, potentially, who might similarly get little help from the UK. Or it could be some nation like China.

Something like China could feel it's worth getting involved in local politics, in the long run, and so help Scotland out the same way they helped Greece. This would give incentive for Scotland's independence.

  • $\begingroup$ "Due to popular demand (possibly armed)" I edited my point 6. Scotland has no realistic chance of using violence. $\endgroup$
    – user81626
    Dec 31, 2020 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ "so help Scotland out the same way they helped Greece." I read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, but were you thinking of a particular aid? $\endgroup$
    – user81626
    Dec 31, 2020 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Excontractu I figure threat of an uprising would be enough, especially if there was any kind of deal China was offering after the UK cuts off help. As it is, if the pandemic gets that bad, I don't think anyone would care about EU membership, as all nations would be forced into survival mode. As for what kind of aid, China's done all kinds. They were building power-plants in Italy, roads and trains and factories in Africa, etc.. In a pandemic, medical supplies and food would be the main wants. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Dec 31, 2020 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Excontractu: “violence” covers a huge range of things. Some are surely unrealistic as you say — direct military force, or a popular revolution too big for the British armed forces to suppress — but separatist terrorism (compare Northern Ireland, or the Basque country) is very realistic. A few well-timed terrorist incidents could pressure Westminster into accepting a second referendum, without tarnishing the cause too much in Scotland. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2020 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ The irony with the scenario is that without Scotland, the Westminister parliament would effectively have only one party with any forseeable chance of forming a government - namely the Conservative and Unionist party. The Labour party was never capable of getting an electoral majority in Westminster without a large number of Scottish MPs, and that scenario vanished when the SNP turned Scotland into a one-party state. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Dec 31, 2020 at 15:41

I don't think it needs much

I think the situation is enough of a powder keg that one small incident may be enough to tip the scales to make this happen. (Assuming 2020 wasnt enough that is.)

I visited Scotland in October 2014 after the last national referendum and the "buyers remorse" feeling was notable. Talking to locals I heard a lot of regret they were "stuck with the rascists down south", and "being looted by the english", and "dragged down", Now add Brexit (notable won by English south east despite Scotland voting remain). Now add covid.

I found this graph on wikipedia's page on Scotland independence:

enter image description here

Making it happen doesnt seem to need any meteorite or tsunami. It just needs a vote to he called and the outcome to match the polls.

With the UK vaccinating at 100,000 per day (and assuming no increase happens), heard immunity to covid by vaccination will be reached by mid to late 2022 (if it remains out of control and infection gives immunity and we scale up immunization; it could be late 2021 even). A referendum by Christmas 2022 would be possible under the "no covid referendum" policy. If they pass legislation and give formal notice immediately after the result and then set a 12 month timeline for negotiations with UK and EU, they will be a free country by early 2024.

So all you need is something that motivates Parliament in late 2022 that spurs a referendum to be called again. Eg Boris Johnson could say something offensive. A decay in UK-EU relations such that some tariffs apply. The royal family could have a serious scandal. A "George floyd style" incident of English on Scottish violence may trigger protests or an incidence of English on immigrant violence may disgust scotland, but it could be literally anything, even mundane. Perhaps the UK Parliament passes a stimulus package that gives less per capita to Scotland than English.

  • $\begingroup$ 'Johnson could says something offensive' - I think you missed "again" $\endgroup$
    – Jontia
    Dec 31, 2020 at 14:16

The Queen intervenes

I don't know too much about British politics, but I do know they don't actually have a written constitution codifying how a lot of the stuff works. It runs on tradition and precedent, and so the royals still theoretically have a lot of power... That they don't actually have. So what happens if they attempt to exercise said power?

The Queen could say "I've had enough and I say that if Scotland wants to leave the UK, it can. I was here when the bombs fell on London during the Blitz, even though I couldn't do anything about it, because symbols have power. Well, you all exercise power in my name, and so I'm doing the same."

What would actually happen if the Queen were to directly intervene in this way? I don't think anybody knows. The outcome of such a political crisis is essentially unpredictable. Britain might not even have a monarchy anymore when it's all over. Or it might actually work, and make whoever holds the throne mean something again.

Probably neither would happen, but the upheaval and chaos that would ensue are great enough that, if this did happen in your story, just about anything could plausibly follow as a consequence.

  • $\begingroup$ This would have to go to the English and Scottish courts as to whether the Queen has this power. It would depend a lot on the exact interaction between the settlement of Queen Anne, and the Act/Treaty of Union. And potentially you could get a scenario where the queen has the power under Scottish law but not English law. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2020 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ One big question would be whether the Union was performed by Act or Treaty, as an Act of Parliament is a Parliamentary matter, whereas treaties fall under the royal prerogative, and so (baring the arguments that applied to the Brexit debate regarding the EU treaties), could be dissolved by royal perogative which is only delegated to the government by convention. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2020 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ One does wonder, if Scotland were to become independent, whether they would still recognize the Queen's sovereignty in the way that, say, Canada and Australia do. They are of course independent countries, but the Queen is still on the money, etc. Scotland could aim for that sort of arrangement. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2020 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman Either that, a Republic, or theoretically a reversion to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz,_Duke_of_Bavaria though rendering the Glorious Rebellion illegitimate. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2020 at 15:47

Irish Reunification

The Good Friday Agreement requires a border poll to be held if support for a United Ireland rises above 50% with Northern Ireland.

Given NI voted to remain in the EU, and the now finalised Brexit deal puts a de-facto border in the Irish sea, for the next few years NI ties with the EU and RoI will grow as its relationship with GB mainland will weaken.

Assume the UK government honours the requirement for a border poll, the vote goes towards a united Ireland and various UK/RoI negotiations take place. The Scottish government will be a keen observer of these talks. Anything that applies to NI infrastructure and costs is going to be germane for Scotland as well.

Johnson's government refuses to allow MSPs any view of the negotiation process, fearful of giving them any ideas. The goes down like the proverbial lead balloon, further boosting support for Scottish Independence and Nicola Sturgeon cuts a deal to have MSP observers placed within the Irish negotiating team.

Consequently, the SNP are unbelievably well prepared for the nitty gritty of Independence negotiation. A week after Irish reunification is approved the SNP drop a "Document for Independence" on the desk of every UK national newspaper, name it an an "oven ready independence deal" and request the UK gov approve a referendum. When they refuse, the SNP republish the document with the title crossed out and "SNP Manifesto" written on the top and dissolve the Scottish Parliament for immediate election with Scottish Independence as the only thing on the Agenda.

The following SNP landslide forces the UK government to collapse in embarrassed incompetence, and the subsequent rainbow collation government approves the independence referendum and modifies the UK voting system to a regional PR system. (I mean, why not, after two of the four home nations have left).