It seems unlikely to me that Brexit will lead to Scottish independence

One the 23rd June, Scotland voted 62% vs 38% for remaining in the EU, which is of course at odds with the overall UK vote of 52% vs 48% for Leave.

Since then, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government have been quick to put the option of holding a second referendum on independence on the table, but Sturgeon has so far fallen short of saying it would definitely happen, and talked about looking at all the options for Scotland to remain in the EU.

With the SNP taking 56/59 of the Scottish seats at Westminster in 2015 and forming another administration at Holyrood, with the help of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, and with the vote to leave the EU being explicitly one of the options Sturgeon had mentioned that might trigger a second independence referendum, many are now talking about the possibility of that happening and thus of Brexit leading to the breakup of the UK.

However despite these poll results, it seems to me rather unlikely that Scotland will become independent in order to become an EU member.

The reasoning for this is simple

  • I expect Scotland to end up outside the EU, having to apply to join, if she obtains independence from the UK.
    • It seems to me most unlikely that Scotland will be able to remain in the EU as the rest of the UK leaves, it is highly speculative as to how it would work and it requires cooperation from the EU and the UK to happen, and it’s not clear why either the UK or EU would entertain the notion.
  • Voting to leave both the UK and the EU means voting for a double dose of economic uncertainty, an extra dose on top of that caused by Brexit itself. It thus seems to me that an independence referendum with that as the choice will be even harder for the SNP to win than the 2014 referendum was. Questions about how the deficit will be dealt with, what currency option will be pursued, etc will be even more stark than they were in 2014.

Additionally, I note that a recent opinion poll did not favour Scottish independence in the event of Brexit.

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How much of it will become “Scotland’s oil”?

Correction: I’ve been told that although the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas doesn’t explicitly state it, the equidistance principle is used as the starting point for resolution if a dispute reaches the international courts. A case where it was used in the final resolution is the 1992 Canadian – French case involving Saint Pierre and Miquelon a French territory near Newfoundland.

Note that this is a starting point for resolution, not necessarily the end point, so there would still be room for the lawyers to argue over if there is a border dispute on this issue.

My thanks to the poster soupdragon on scot.politics/uk.politics.misc for clearing this up.


I argue here that it is not safe to assume an independent Scotland will obtain the 90%+ share of oil revenues the Scottish government will claim they will get based on getting the geographic share of oil revenues.

A claim that the “Yes” campaign for Scottish independence makes much of is that Scottish tax payers have paid more than the UK average in taxes since 1980/81 (to a tune of a total of £222 billion extra), when you allocate a geographical share of North Sea oil revenues to Scotland. On this basis, the Scottish government further claims that, in terms of per capita GDP, Scotland is the 8th wealthiest country in the world compared to the UK’s 17th place. Similar claims are made in Scotland’s Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland, the Scottish government’s guide to independence, including a claim that 98.8% of UK oil production for the 30 years starting in 2011 would belong to Scotland (e.g. see page 104).

The work of Professor Alex Kemp at the University of Aberdeen is often cited, starting with the 1999 paper he co-authored with Linda Stephen “EXPENDITURES IN AND REVENUES FROM THE UKCS: ESTIMATING THE HYPOTHETICAL SCOTTISH SHARES 1970 – 2003” (UKCS here means UK Continental Shelf). This paper attempts to estimate how much revenue Scotland have received from oil if she were an independent country during this period. A key question is how to determine the boundaries of Scottish waters, and on this point Kemp and Stephen explain:

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