Will The UK General Election Prompt A Second Referendum On Scottish Independence?
“It doesn’t matter what Scotland votes,” the woman calls out and begins to walk away before returning. “We never get what we vote for.”
Speaking to voters, cabinet ministers and political commentators, barely a few days away from the United Kingdom (UK) general election scheduled for December 12, there are signs that the Scots are growing impatient with the Westminster parliament.
The 50-something female sounds angry. I call after her.
“What’s your name?” “Carole” She calls over her shoulder and hurries off into the crowd.
It seems ironic. In the run-up to the referendum on Scottish Independence, September 18 2014, the Scots were told that a vote to leave the United Kingdom would mean an independent Scotland leaving the European Union (EU). Subsequently, the Scottish people voted to stay in the UK.
Fast forward to Thursday, June 23 2016, and while Scotland voted by 62 per cent to 38 per cent to remain in Europe, the UK as a whole voted 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent to leave.
Fast forward three years and Boris Johnston, unable to keep his promise of making Brexit happen on October 31, 2019, or to “die in a ditch”, has taken the less dramatic action and called a UK general election.
But amid the turmoil of Britain’s struggle to free itself from the EU, something has changed north of the border. This might be a ‘general election’ but many Scots now see next Thursday’s vote as a marker for Scottish independence, or, at the very least, a call for a second referendum on the issue.
Picking up on the mood, Michael Russell, Scottish National Party (SNP) cabinet minister for government business and constitutional relations told InsideOver:
“The SNP’s clear message, which respects Scottish voters right to choose their future, stands in stark contrast to the approach to Scotland by the UK parties who have imposed austerity and who want to impose Brexit. That message is increasingly attractive to those of all political persuasions.”
So, is there a group of Scottish voters who would – normally – not be inclined to vote for the SNP but who are now willing to use them as a vehicle to achieve Scottish independence? A grouping who favour independence but who are not necessarily impressed by the nationalists’ ideology?
Of course, we will only discover how big this grouping might be after the election, but feelings are strong.
“Voting for an independent Scotland does not mean you need to vote for the SNP after the general election,” Ross John from Ayr, a small town of around 50,000 in southwest Scotland, said. “Once independent, the political landscape of Scotland will change. Other parties may evolve. But one thing is certain we will have parties that will act for the people of Scotland.”
Another man stated that independence was ‘essential’. He claimed to be a former Labour Party supporter prepared to vote SNP as a means of gaining self-determination.
But nothing is simple. Some of those who are now prepared to vote for the SNP, also admitted they were not impressed by the nationalists’ record in office. They were unhappy with a series of scandals that have rocked the party, as well as their performance on health and education. They also acknowledge that independence would bring its difficulties, and recognise that Scotland has a seven per cent financial deficit which would – ironically – prevent an independent Scotland from re-entering the EU until it was below three per cent.
Some counter this by saying that it would be better for Scotland to mess things up on their own, rather than let London do it for them.
“People who have voted Tories, Lib Dems or Labour all their lives,” Manny Singh, Director of Operations for the Scottish Independence Movement and a director with the pro-independence All Under One Banner, told me. “May switch over to the SNP because they have seen the shambles at Westminster, [and] …parties… not delivering what they promised.”
It now seems possible that Scots, in increasing numbers, might be prepared to vote for the nationalists to secure independence from a system that is, as they perceive it, not working for them.
“Support for independence has gone up according to all the polls conducted this year,” John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, and one of the UK’s top psephologists and political commentators confirmed. “On average…support for the SNP is at 49 [per cent] as opposed to the 45 [per cent]…in the polls last year.”
But, will it be enough? Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government are seeking a mandate from the Scottish electorate at the election, to enable the SNP to make a case for a second referendum on independence (indyref2).
Meanwhile, her government published a referendum framework bill, called Referendums (Scotland) Bill, in May 2019, to prepare for a second vote on the issue.
But even if the whole of Scotland voted SNP on December 12, there is still no guarantee that whoever is in power in Westminster on Friday, December 13 will sanction a second referendum on Scottish Independence.
What happens after the general election will depend on how much support the SNP can muster from its own and from those of a different political hue willing, temporarily (as many of them claim), to give them their vote.
A situation muddied by the divisions around Brexit. John Curtice is quick to point out that the SNP had leaked support from a section of leavers who were once happy to support them.
“Support for the SNP back in 2015,” He explained. “Was equally high among Europhiles and Eurosceptics. That is no longer the case. SNP support is about 50 per cent among Remainers, 25 per cent among Leavers. That’s a change. That happened in 2017 and that’s just something the SNP have to live with. So, the SNP over the broad run since have lost ground among Eurosceptics. But…there has been a lot of people switching sides. It looks as though it has resorted to an increase in support for yes [to independence].”
In many ways and for many reasons this general election will be one of Britain’s most historic. North and south of the border, of course, it is all about independence, from the European Union and, potentially, from the United Kingdom.
Who can tell how it will unravel. Who will be in power post-December 12, and how much of the Scottish electorate will back the SNP? One thing is certain, there are not many sleeps now until we find out.