Alex Kane: Brexit, border poll and independence referendum mean constitutional tidal wave on its way

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence against the backdrop of constitutional flux from Brexit and Sinn Féin talking about a border poll

THE next five years or so could be the most exciting - albeit unpredictable - ones since 1945. Maps will be redrawn. New nations could emerge. The United Kingdom could disintegrate.

This is, in fact, a genuinely revolutionary period. At the end of it the political/constitutional landscape will have changed, along with the dreams and hopes of millions of people.

For a start, the United Kingdom has to exit the European Union while constructing a viable replacement; and do it all within a couple of years.

The problem is that Theresa May doesn't seem to have a game plan. She may have secured Parliamentary permission to trigger Article 50, but at no point has she set out hard evidence of what her alternative to the EU will be.

And it seems unlikely that she will give us any clues before March 28, let alone over the next two years. I'm not even convinced that she would, if it comes to it, push for a 'hard' Brexit if the EU side decides not to play ball.

So I'm still expecting a second referendum further down the line, if only to get her off a hook she never expected to be on.

Nicola Sturgeon has decided to stir the pot by saying she wants her own second referendum - which she knows she isn't going to get. And she knows she isn't going to get it because she knows that it's not possible to give Scottish voters an honest choice.

She doesn't know what deal will be negotiated by the Prime Minister, so how can she ask people to choose between an independent Scotland (which may not be allowed to stay in, or rejoin the EU) and the present Union?

She's mischief-making, secure in the knowledge that what she's asking for isn't going to be given. Maybe she fears that a 'good' exit deal is possible; or maybe she fears that a second EU referendum would reverse last year's.

Either way, such an outcome would make her independence pitch much harder to sell.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has its tail up and continues to drone on and on and on about a border poll. But there's very scant electoral evidence to suggest that a majority in Northern Ireland would back a withdrawal from the United Kingdom at this point.

Yet, like the SNP, asking for something they know they won't get allows both parties to deploy the 'poor us' mantra. A border poll right now wouldn't make sense because voters don't know the precise nature of the choice they would be expected to make.

The other thing worth mentioning is the increasing instability within the European Union itself.

Huge numbers of people in all of the member states are very unhappy. Their concerns have not been addressed, let alone assuaged, which is why there has been a surge in support for populist parties.

And at the very centre of the EU project there remains a reluctance to admit that there is a problem.

Oh yes, they'll rattle off the usual mantra about reforms - always cosmetic, as it happens - being required; but they never deviate from the march towards increasing centralisation and 'empire' consolidation.

All empires rot from the bottom up. That's happening right now with the EU. For decades the people who objected to this empire building thought they were alone.

Worse, when anyone expressed concerns they were dismissed as fanatics, extremists, racists or 'threats to the peace and stability of Europe'.

But in the past few years they have tasted electoral blood and they have realised that their vote matters; it can be used to unsettle and send shockwaves. Cosmetic reform is no longer an option. The tide of discontent is clearly more than just a passing fad.

We have also seen the rise of a new form of English nationalism; and it's a nationalism which regards the Celtic fringes of the United Kingdom as not worth subsidising - financially or emotionally.

That's going to be a problem for unionists in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. It's very difficult to promote their cause when their nationalist counterparts taunt them with: "You wouldn't even dare to have a referendum asking the English if they wanted to keep you in the Union."

So, if this new nationalism takes hold and - with the continuing debilitation of Labour under Corbyn - it will force some very difficult questions onto the political agenda.

What we face now are years of instability and uncertainty, with a clash of competing and contradictory forces.

Predictions are almost impossible to make because nobody can know which of the forces will predominate and carry the day.

All we can say - albeit with nothing more than confident uncertainty - is that a tidal wave of political, constitutional change is on the way. Yes, these are very interesting times.


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