Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum


LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland have been dampened on Saturday, as early election outcomes confirmed the dominant Scottish nationalist occasion falling simply in need of a majority within the nation’s parliament.

The outcomes, if confirmed after the votes are totally counted by Saturday night, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in flip, is more likely to stiffen the willpower of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.

Yet pro-independence events have been on observe to remain in general management, which can preserve the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and guarantee that the specter of Scotland’s breaking away will proceed to bedevil the United Kingdom.

The variety of seats received by the Scottish National Party within the election, held on Thursday, is in some methods much less necessary than the political winds, that are nonetheless blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists might tighten their management over the regional Parliament.

Party leaders have signaled that they’ll put a second referendum on the prime of the agenda after Scotland recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. The final time the Scots voted on independence, in 2014, they opted to stay within the United Kingdom by 55 p.c to 45 p.c. Polls present near a 50-50 cut up on the query now, with assist for breaking away having weakened barely in current months.

While disappointing to the Scottish nationalists, the obvious absence of a transparent majority would possibly in the end work to their benefit, by giving them time to construct assist for a referendum relatively than being stampeded into an instantaneous marketing campaign by the strain of an awesome mandate.

Still, the end result could be a reduction to Mr. Johnson, for whom the dissolution of the United Kingdom looms as a probably defining occasion for his premiership. He stays deeply unpopular in Scotland, and it’s not clear how properly ready his authorities is to counter a reinvigorated push for Scottish independence.

For his half, Mr. Johnson was basking in Conservative Party’s victories in regional elections throughout England, which left the opposition Labour Party in disarray and bolstered his popularity as an inveterate vote-getter. Yet a few of the similar post-Brexit populism that received the Conservatives votes in working-class elements of the Midlands and northern England labored in opposition to him in a extra liberal and Brexit-averse Scotland.

On Friday, Mr. Johnson vowed to reject calls for for a referendum, saying that as Britain emerged from the pandemic, the nation ought to give attention to rebuilding the financial system relatively than preventing over constitutional points.

“I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” he stated in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “I think that there’s no case now for such a thing. I don’t think it’s what the times call for at all.”

That is unlikely to cease pro-independence leaders like Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who confirmed that she would push for one other referendum. She and different officers have been already claiming a mandate like that of 2011, when the Scottish National Party final received an absolute majority and petitioned for a referendum. Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, David Cameron, yielded to their demand.

“He saw that there was a clear democratic mandate for it, and there will be another clear democratic mandate this time,” Lorna Slater, a pacesetter of the Scottish Greens, advised the BBC on Saturday. “What kind of country are we if we ignore that kind of democratic mandate?”

Analysts stated the reason for independence is likely to be helped by a drawn-out battle with the Westminster authorities, since it will alienate Scottish voters, probably driving extra of them into the separatist camp. There can be the prospect of bitter authorized battles, probably ending up in Britain’s Supreme Court, if the Scots threaten to proceed with a referendum in defiance of London.

“That’s not a bad thing for the S.N.P., because Nicola Sturgeon has said our priority is to solve Covid first,” stated Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics on the University of Edinburgh. The nationalists, she famous, additionally don’t but “have answers to tough questions regarding what would happen with the border.”

Problems in Northern Ireland, which emerged from Brexit with a hybrid standing as part of the United Kingdom however with no land border with the Irish republic, underscore the difficulties of even a partial cut up from the union. Economists warn that the fee to Scotland of leaving could be profound.

Pro-independence sentiment in Scotland was fueled by the Brexit referendum in 2016, which a majority of Scots voted in opposition to. Many in Scotland want to the rejoin the European Union and examine an independence referendum as a step in that course.

That is one motive Professor McEwen and different analysts predict that Scotland wouldn’t stage a “wildcat referendum,” for the reason that European Union and different governments could be unlikely to acknowledge the outcomes.

Mr. Johnson, analysts stated, would most likely search to blunt pro-independence sentiment by pouring cash into Scotland. If the strain continues to mount, he might provide to delegate extra authority to Scotland’s authorities.

Under the phrases of restricted self-government within the United Kingdom, the Scottish authorities are accountable for issues like well being and schooling, whereas the British authorities handles immigration, overseas coverage and monetary coverage.

Mr. Johnson’s purpose, analysts stated, could be to play for time, delaying any referendum till after the subsequent British normal election, which is because of be held in 2024. But repeatedly rebuffing Scottish calls might backfire.

“There is a view in Westminster that denying a referendum will only fire independence sentiment,” stated Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst on the Eurasia Group, a political danger consultancy. “This is not a problem that is going away. It is only going to get bigger over time.”

For Ms. Sturgeon as chief of the Scottish National Party, failing to win a transparent majority would however be deflating. Such a mandate appeared inside her grasp final summer time when she was getting credit score for steering Scotland’s response to the coronavirus, an method that was extra cautious than Mr. Johnson’s and appeared, for a time, to provide higher outcomes.

But Britain’s profitable rollout of vaccines blurred the variations, and Scotland’s case and dying charges — whereas considerably decrease than these of England — are now not all that far aside. Analysts cited the British vaccine marketing campaign as an element within the modest decline in assist for independence, which was above 50 p.c in polls for a lot of final 12 months.

Moreover, Ms. Sturgeon, 50, turned embroiled in a bitter feud along with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched inner investigation of sexual misconduct prices in opposition to him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking guidelines and even conspiring in opposition to Mr. Salmond, a former shut ally.

Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and deceptive Parliament simply because the marketing campaign bought underway, however the dispute dented her picture. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway occasion, Alba, which didn’t seem on observe to win any seats however served as a reminder of the internecine cut up.

“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen stated. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”



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