How will we remember March 2017? As the point that marked the 60 year anniversary since the Treaty of Rome was signed – which kick-started the project of European integration which has shaped our last half century – or as the beginning of the end of the British involvement in that very same project?
As we move ever closer to the triggering of Article 50 this month, the answer, it appears, will be a mix of both – and perhaps much, much more.
As Nicola Sturgeon made clear on Monday, a second referendum on Scottish independence now seems a distinct possibility. We should ask: how did we end up asking the Scottish people, for the second time in four years, a question the last prime minister told us was “settled for a generation”?
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The first answer to that question is the obvious one: 62 per cent of Scots voted to Remain in the EU, and as such, have a right to feel aggrieved by Brexit. But the second answer is more problematic, inasmuch as it is avoidable. As Sturgeon argued on Monday, she has met “a brick wall of intransigence” around Brexit from May’s government on discussions on the issue. But as she has also said as recently as last month, there was still the option of compromise from the Government, the possibility to ceding some ground to Scotland and the other devolved assemblies, of involving them in the process of Brexit overall. However they have been summarily dismissed.
Add to this the fact that in Parliament there has been no meaningful challenge to this wall of intransigence – there is no official Opposition capable of opposing. Who can blame Sturgeon and the SNP, and the Scottish people as a whole, for their sense of grievance that they are being denied a meaningful voice on Brexit?
We should remember that if the 48 per cent across the UK as a whole feel left out of the rush towards Brexit at all costs, then that must be even more pronounced in Remain supporting Scotland. Add this to the long standing sense of neglect at the hands of Whitehall that has fed into the rise of the SNP in recent decades, and you have a potent mix of forces that mean the next Scottish referendum may produce a different vote from the first.
And, as with Scotland, the ripples could soon be felt elsewhere. What exactly should the Northern Irish feel, as they see the media furore over the weekend of David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox all talking up the possibility of not just Brexit, but a Brexit at all costs?
Northern Ireland not only voted Remain in the referendum, but their remarkable recovery from the Troubles in recent years has been predicated in large measure on successive waves of devolution, in order that they could manage their own healing. It is dangerous in the extreme to now deny them that devolved responsibility and force them into a London-driven Brexit.
The irony in all of this is that the Brexit vote has been portrayed since June as the expression of the voice of the left behind, ignored for too long by successive governments. In her bid to show a unilateral strength and stability above all else in the project of Brexit, Theresa May and her team are in real danger of leaving many, many more people behind, including the entire nations of a once United Kingdom.
Dr Andy Price is the head of politics at Sheffield Hallam University