Tony Blair has warned that a hard Brexit could push Scottish independence ‘over the line’, as he suggested merging the English and Scottish football leagues in a bid to keep the union alive.
In an interview with the Institute for Government think-tank the former Labour Prime Minister reflected on two decades of devolution and warned that the UK risked coming apart at the seams depending on how Brexit plays out.
Mr Blair said an independent Scotland would “immediately lose its ability to influence things through membership of the UK” before taking aim at Scottish nationalists, comparing them to Brexiteers.
He said: “I always say that the arguments of the Brexiteers are very similar to the arguments of the Scottish Nationalists ultimately. It’s just a misunderstanding of what nationhood really entails in the 21st century.”
Quizzed on the success of devolution, Mr Blair said it was important that his own party had backed Scotland’s wish to be granted its own parliamentary powers in the 1990s and that full independence would have been a foregone conclusion had it failed to do so.
“I had become convinced myself that it was basically the right thing to do and that the previous 100 years had been a series of failed attempts to do devolution,” he stated.
“And it was important that we succeeded otherwise I could see a situation, particularly in Scotland, where the support for independence would be unstoppable. I still think it was basically necessary to prevent that even though it’s a continuing debate as to whether Scotland goes for full independence or not.”
When pressed on the future likelihood of Scottish independence, following twenty years of devolution, Mr Blair added: I still think they won’t succeed unless Brexit pushes us into a position where that kind of gets Scottish independence over the line – if you have hard Brexit, which is possible.
“And if you do end up with a hard Brexit, if you finally do Brexit and you do a hard Brexit, which is obviously what a large part of the Conservative Party want and what people who voted Brexit probably prefer (it’s not clear, but they probably do) then, yes, it will put a strain on the Union. Now, we can overcome it, but you’re going to have to work very hard to do it.”
And quizzed over what he would do to help keep the union together, Mr Blair suggested the merging together of the English, Scottish and Welsh football leagues as one possible solution.
“People used to think it was a bit trivial when I used to say we should put the football leagues together…It’s just you need to find ways in which people are realising they have a lot in common, as well as space for the diversity of the UK. I’d do a lot more of that.”
He added: “I was very struck by the fact that once you did devolution and then you separated, even institutions like the BBC became separated in a very clear way. You just lost that sense of a common agenda that you are waking up to every day.
“Obviously, that’s now happened. We need to be thinking, we need to be more active and passionate in our defence of the Union. And maybe if one good thing comes out, once we get rid of this Brexit thing, is that we really need to think about what is the place of the UK in the world and why is it sensible for countries to be together in the UK.”