After 29 March the rules of the game will change. Even the chief Brexiteers have conceded that in the immediate aftermath of Brexit the United Kingdom will suffer an economic and financial shock magnitudes greater than the 2007 credit crunch. Jacob Rees-Mogg is on record stating it might take fifty years for recovery to begin. The word from Ireland tonight was “brace for impact.” After 29 March – just 73 days from now – Britain’s economic and financial survival will become dependent on Scotland’s oil and gas resources to a degree to which it never has in the past.
May’s result tonight was more than a stay of execution for herself. This was a stay of execution for the British union state. Brexit, as it works itself out, has a number of grimly inevitable conclusions. It will leave the United Kingdom poorer and in a long-term downward economic decline; a weight that will be disproportionately carried by the poorest. Social tensions will be stretched to breaking point, with a sharp increase in racism and race-related hate crime.
Getting the proposal through the Commons will require 325 votes. Before this crisis the government had, together with its confidence and supply purchase, a majority of one – with 326 seats. It no longer has this. With a conservative estimate of losses, the government’s vote is reduced to about 276; that’s 50 votes shy of the majority it needs. So, can this vote be passed? Of course, but nothing is guaranteed. We can exclude from the equation Sinn Féin’s 7 seats. The Irish republicans refuse to take their seats in the British parliament. This brings May’s shortfall to somewhere closer to 40-45 votes.
It comes as no surprise, then, when she speaks of “our national life,” that there is precisely no mention of Scotland or Wales in her proposal. This is also why she has the boldness to claim that the people of Britain are “looking to the Conservative Party to deliver.” No one in Scotland and Wales is looking to the Conservative Party to deliver anything. She is not talking about Scotland and Wales. This proposal she has made is in England’s national interest and this is why it is so concerned – with a characteristic lack of concern – with Northern Ireland.
In practical terms this divergence means that British rule on the island of Ireland will come to an end, ultimately bringing about the conditions in which a border poll on the constitutional future of the six counties will be reduced to little more than a legal formality. Given the population demographics of the province and the mutual economic interdependence of Ireland and the six counties, the long-term consequence of this deal – if agreed – will be the eventual unification of Ireland.
Special status for Northern Ireland, which rejected Brexit, will be a slap in the face for Scotland – which also rejected Brexit. As the six counties do not have significant oil and gas resources and Scotland does, no such arrangement will be considered for the Scots. This cannot play out well for British unity. The majority of Scotland – including its unionist base – rejected Brexit, Holyrood has refused legislative consent to any deal that does not consider the interests of the Scottish voters, and those voters themselves know what’s best for them.
Brexit is an existential threat to Scotland. The “wait and see” philosophy of those who would rather wait until the terms are clearer or until we have left the EU and the consequences have hit the tarmac has run its course. We may not know the exact terms of the Brexit deal or the true significance of a British walkout, but it’s all academic. We know exactly where this is heading – and we had better not still have our head on the block when that axe comes down.