Brexit Reflections - Europe’s West Lothian Question

As the politicians try to make sense of the referendum result, they are struggling to define what ‘leave’ actually means.

There are two issues at stake here: access to the European market; and membership of the political union.  Many on the Leave side are suggesting that the UK will retain access to the single market in one way or another and that there may not even be much reduction in the free movement of labour or migration more generally. That is to be decided. What is surely clear, however, is that the UK will no longer belong to the political institutions of the EU including the Council of the European Union in which the laws are made. So the price of entry into the single market could be accepting the rules of the market even if we have no vote in making them.

Scotland is also grappling with the result. In 2014 it voted decisively to remain in the British economic and political union. Now it has voted by an even larger margin to remain in the European Union. It cannot now remain in both political unions and so faces a difficult choice. It seems likely that Scots will be asked again to vote for independence in order to remain in the EU. The downside of this is that there will be a hard EU border between Scotland and England. If the UK (or England and Wales) do negotiate access to the European single market, however, that would remove this danger, allow Scotland access to both markets and make independence easier. Indeed such an independent Scotland would have a vote in the Council of the European Union while England and Wales would not. In a new iteration of the West Lothian Question Scotland could end up with a say in making policy for England and Wales while the English and Welsh had to take what they are offered – the West Brussels Question?

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Michael Keating's picture
post by Michael Keating
University of Aberdeen
27th June 2016
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