Last referendum about it took place in 2014, and Scotland elected to stay in the United Kingdom. One of then Prime Minister David Cameron's main arguments was that independent Scotland would be excluded from the EU.

Now, as UK is not in the EU (and EU might welcome independent Scotland), what are the other arguments for Scotland remaining in the union?

  • 10
    The argument wasnt that Scotland would be excluded from the EU, but that the SNP was campaigning on the basis that they would have automatic entry as a successor state, while even the EU was saying that an independent Scotland would have to apply…
    – user16741
    Jul 12, 2021 at 6:27
  • Comments deleted. Please remember that comments are to discuss how the question itself could be improved. They are not for political debates about its subject matter.
    – Philipp
    Jul 29, 2021 at 9:15

4 Answers 4


While the UK was still in the EU, an independent Scotland remaining in the EU would also enjoy unfettered access to the rump UK market through the EU single market framework. In that scenario, it would get the best of both worlds: access to the UK market and access to the rest of the EU single market (and increased autonomy/sovereignty on other matters). Before Brexit, being part of the EU would therefore have meant that Scotland would not have to choose between the UK and EU at least as far trade was concerned.

Now that the UK is out of the EU, the calculation has changed and not only in the way you mentioned. Rejoining the EU would mean a hard(er) border between Scotland and England. It might not be as fraught as the Irish border but it would still create the kind of difficulties now faced by British businesses trying to export to the EU or Northern Ireland.

If Scotland could and would choose alignment with the EU, some people/industries would stand to gain (including the fishing industry, ironically enough) but increased access to the EU market would come at the expense of access to the England/Wales market. That would be problematic for exactly the same reasons as Brexit is (hampering trade with your closest largest neighbour is costly).

On the other hand, an independent Scotland seeking to maintain alignment with the UK (e.g. to safeguard agrifood exports) would find itself in exactly the position the UK is right now: unable to set new rules without cutting itself off the EU single market. As the UK is now realising, there is no easy way to escape that choice.

In fact, if Scotland wants to preserve existing trade relationships with its neighbours (the UK and EU), it would find itself in a very difficult position with little flexibility. It would have to chose between them, be completely unable to set an independent policy and might even be pushed to align more closely with US rules, if that was the route the UK chose to follow.

All that means that from a trade perspective and no matter how unfair that might feel, Brexit hasn't made Scottish independence any easier.


One argument that has been made is that Scotland would lose some access to the UK market, which is a major one for its economy. There seems to be some truth in that, as we have seen that Northern Ireland, which is part of the EU's economic area with a border down the Irish Sea separating it from the rest of the UK, has not been able to retain unfettered access. However, the UK government is working to improve access so that may change in future.

Arguments have been made over Scotland's ability to re-join the EU. These mostly focus on economic issues (would Scotland's economy meet the requirements for EU membership) and political ones (would other EU members veto Scotland's membership due to concerns over it encouraging separatists in their own countries).

Another issue is the question of how the "divorce" from the UK would work. The UK has considerable debt, much of it run up by the UK government rather than by the Scottish one. Some take the position that Scotland would have to accept a share of this debt, particularly if it wanted to retain Sterling as its currency. The issue of if Scotland could influence Sterling monetary policy arises too. The alternative would be to join the Euro if EU membership was granted, and some people have argued that that is a possible downside to Scottish independence.

There is some question over the status of UK assets in Scotland which provide jobs, such as naval dockyards servicing the UK's nuclear submarine fleet. Presumably the UK would not want its nuclear armed fleet to have a home base in another country, although in the short to medium term it may take a long time to relocate it during which Scotland could secure other uses for those facilities.

  • 5
    With regard to the last paragraph it is probably worth noting that the SNP don't want the UK's nuclear arsenal based in Scotland either. SNP on Trident
    – Jontia
    Jul 13, 2021 at 12:44
  • 4
    +1 but I don't see much evidence that the UK is actually “working” to improve access to Northern Ireland as much as loudly demanding it just happens.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 13, 2021 at 13:46
  • I'm not sure if under the current EU rules a new country can decline the Euro. The existing non-Euro countries in the EU fall into two categories: existing members that got a waiver when the Euro was introduced, and new members that accepted the Euro in principle but do not meet the financial criteria yet.
    – MSalters
    Jul 13, 2021 at 14:55
  • @MSalters if the UK were to re-apply, it likely ask to keep the pound. I think the EU would acquiesce to that request
    – Caleth
    Jul 14, 2021 at 9:38
  • @Relaxed it's going to be a difficult campaign for them. They can't argue that it will create a terrible burden by having a border with England while also claiming that they are making the NI border work. They also keep claiming that NI is in a good position of having access to both the UK and EU markets.
    – user
    Jul 14, 2021 at 13:51
  1. Not leaving the U.K. carries no dead loss transition costs and hasn't had any catastrophic negative consequences so far. Inertia is powerful and you shouldn't fix what isn't seriously broken.

  2. Not leaving the U.K. avoids unnecessary political conflict over shared resources (from national football and Olympic stars, to offshore oil and gas rights, to national defense assets).

  3. Scotland is more culturally and linguistically and religiously more similar to England and Wales and the rest of the U.K. than to any E.U. or E.F.T.A. member.

  4. While Scottish political leanings seem quite distinct on a national level from England and Wales, the entire range of political ideology in the U.K. is still narrower, for example, than that of the U.S.

  5. The existing institutions of autonomous self-government are sufficient to protect Scottish interests in maintaining its cultural integrity and legal and political distinctiveness, without unnecessary and redundant costs associated with being an independent state (e.g. embassies of their own around the world).

  6. They share a monarch.

  7. Scotland is the biggest trading partner of the remainder of the U.K. and visa versa. Their economies are complementary. Scottish manufacturing and agriculture has markets to its South, which buys its goods and provides financing for them.

  8. Scotland gets subsidies from the rest of the U.K., the rest of the U.K. gets to exploit Scottish resources.

  9. This keeps the market for right hand drive motor vehicles maximally united.

  10. Countries with larger and more complex military forces (in absolute terms) and governmental institutions (with federal dimensions) are less prone to coups and other extralegal transitions of power.

  11. The very long continuity of shared governmental institutions and political traditions in the U.K. increases political stability in a manner which can't be achieved by any other means.

  12. One larger military force defending a shared Great Britain is more effective militarily than two smaller military forces.

  13. A united U.K. prevents wars from breaking out between Scotland and other parts of the U.K. and prevents the members of the U.K. from having to devote military, customs and immigration resources to their shared board and to coastal traffic in Great Britain.

  14. An undivided U.K. makes gun control in the U.K. more effective at reducing murder and other serious violent crime than in any other jurisdiction in the world except Japan, and dividing it could undermine that effectiveness.

  15. A U.K. visa is more useful to its citizens than separate visas, when traveling abroad.

  • A decent effort for a wide range of possible arguments. Are these just things you've thought of, or are they arguments advanced by any specific pro-union groups? Most intriguingly I'd love to see some data for #4 that the UK political spectrum is narrower than the US, which seems contrary to most discussions (and also not super relevant). Or is this a type for the EU?
    – Jontia
    Jul 14, 2021 at 7:53
  • @Jontia "the UK political spectrum is narrower than the US, which seems contrary to most discussions (and also not super relevant)." For example, no one in the U.K. wants to end universal healthcare, is actively anti-science, supports massive voter suppression, wants mass civilian ownership of firearms, etc., while lots of left Democrats want to basically reproduce U.K. and European economic and social policies.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 14, 2021 at 16:49
  • 2
    "Are these just things you've thought of, or are they arguments advanced by any specific pro-union groups?" Both. My goal was to be as comprehensive as I could in a quick review. Some are also so obvious that they are rarely mentioned (like #1). I also make no effort to rank them in relative importance. The order presented tries to group similar ideas together but it otherwise random. FWIW, I personally favor Scottish independence followed by Scotland joining the E.U.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 14, 2021 at 16:51
  • There are factions in the UK that think the NHS should be replaced with a US style insurance system
    – Jontia
    Jul 14, 2021 at 17:20
  • @Jontia Not saying that there aren't a range of positions. By the Overton window is much narrower.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 14, 2021 at 17:23

EU membership or not would be an argument hotly debated by the media, but far less important among the voters. People realised that the exit of the UK from the EU is more a formal than actual. The UK still has a lot of agreements binding it to the EU and the change for Scotland from the UK to the EU would have little economic impact.

  • 5
    This does not appear to be the case. An extraordinary claim really needs some evidence to back it up.
    – Jontia
    Jul 12, 2021 at 13:24
  • 2
    @Jontia As usual. Is it more real the reality or the reality created by big media?
    – FluidCode
    Jul 12, 2021 at 13:27
  • 1
    @FluidCode Fyi it's not only "big media", the official UK government economic forecast as well as many economists and business leaders have warned about significant economic consequences. For example the finance industry has already relocated thousands of jobs.
    – Erwan
    Jul 12, 2021 at 23:40
  • 1
    Generally, I doubt, that position of official economists and UK government are very different from the so-called big media. Not criticizing it, but that's just the same Jul 13, 2021 at 5:48
  • @user2501323 well there might be a good reason for that: both categories of people are generally professionals who have actually looked at the data. People who don't want to trust the media, the government and numerous business leaders about economics are free to trust whoever they want, their hairdresser for instance. After all, it's well known that hairdressers are fairly knowledgeable about economics.
    – Erwan
    Jul 13, 2021 at 22:36

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