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A Step Closer to Brexit?

LONDON – The referendum on Scottish independence, due on September 18, comes at a time of growing opposition in the United Kingdom to remaining in the European Union. This is significant, because Scotland is the strongest base of pro-European sentiment in the UK.

For example, a poll conducted earlier this year determined that if a referendum on continued EU membership had been held in June in the UK as a whole, 47.1% would have voted to leave, with 39.4% voting to remain. But a poll in February 2014 showed that in Scotland, 48.7% would vote for the UK to remain in the EU, with 35.4% voting to leave. Other polls have also shown a consistent and markedly more positive attitude toward the EU in Scotland than in England.

Of course, it is premature to draw any firm conclusions from these figures. The referendum on exiting the EU that Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed may not take place, regardless of the success (whatever that may mean) of his promised “renegotiation” of the terms of British membership. But, as a result of various ostensibly minor issues, the likelihood of a British exit seems to be increasing – which fundamentally alters the importance of the vote in Scotland.

For example, the proposal of the relatively unknown Jonathan Hill, the leader of the UK House of Lords, as the British member of the new European Commission headed by Jean-Claude Juncker was just the latest in a long series of British EU errors. Cameron’s spokesmen said in July that, at his first meeting with the new Commission president, Cameron would seek a prestigious portfolio, such as the internal market, for Hill. Juncker’s office coldly replied that important portfolios in the new Commission would go to major political figures, and that Juncker “does not owe [Cameron] anything.”