The Independence Debate Dominates Scotland’s First Elections Since Brexit

This Thursday elections to the Scottish Parliament are held. They are the first elections after Brexit and the proposals to work on an economic recovery, improve the health and education system, fight the ravages of the pandemic or improve working conditions have taken a back seat in the campaign. It has all come down to a single question: does each party and each candidate support Scottish independence?

Polls give Scottish National Party (SNP) the winner, which is the one who currently governs, led by Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It is closely followed by the Conservative Party and the Labor Party, two political forces opposed to independence. After them, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Green Party. Among the five political parties with the highest representation in Parliament, in addition to the SNP, only the greens support independence. The other party that could surprise at the polls would be the Alba Party, created this year by former SNP leader Alex Salmond, made up of former SNP members and whose electoral campaign has been based on putting Scottish independence as a top priority.

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The current Scottish Prime Minister has committed to holding a second referendum before the end of 2023 if the pandemic allows it. If it does not reach an absolute majority, it will have to seek allies in other formations that support independence, such as the Greens or the Alba Party. In the current legislature the SNP has 61 seats, to only four parliamentarians of the absolute majority in the chamber composed of 129 representatives.

The road to independence raises two new unknowns. The first is whether Westminster would approve that second referendum. In early 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected Scotland’s request for a second referendum. With the arrival of the elections, Johnson is receiving increased pressure to allow a second referendum if the ballot boxes show a favorable result, that is, if the SNP wins. Even so, the Scottish Prime Minister clarified last Thursday in a BBC program that the elections “are not the independence referendum“.

The second unknown is the economic effects of Scotland’s departure from the United Kingdom. The departure of the European bloc it has already had economic consequences for Scotland. “Independence is now a concern at a time of great economic stress. Will Scotland be able to sustain itself? Independence is not something to be taken lightly,” says Elisabeth, a voter. Hence, many prefer to stay within the UK.

Dominic, a young man living in Scotland, agrees on the economic component: “The main reason that paralyzes me is the economic viability and the debt we would have to pay. Can Escocía afford it?” But would the European Union allow it? “If it became independent, it would have a deficit that would not allow it to access the European Union. What most Scots want is to return to the European Union, because obviously Brexit has hurt Scottish industry a lot, since there was a lot of exports and there was a lot of aid from the community bloc, “says Benjamin, an Asturian living in Scotland.

Where does this ‘sudden’ debate come from that has banished the rest of the political proposals from the table? The end of Brexit and the creation of an exclusively pro-independence party have set off alarms in Scotland and also in Westminster. The rise in independence sentiment in recent months has been the culmination of the division created between Scotland and England after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

It all started in 2014, when the first referendum on Scottish independence was held. Most of the Scots preferred to remain part of the United Kingdom to avoid leaving the European Union: the “no” won with 55.3% of the votes.

“When it comes to saying ‘we’re leaving Europe’, the majority of Scots were against it. However, when it comes to saying ‘we’re leaving the UK’, it’s somewhat more even. There is a large part who see the benefits of being in the UK, but most see the benefit of being an EU citizen, “says Benjamin.

“In Scotland there has always been this feeling of anger towards England (…). Especially after the 2014 referendum there were a lot of promises made by Westminster. For example, ‘if you stay in the UK, you stay in the European Union’. There were also promises to help Scotland more and give it more executive and legislative power. Many of those promises have not been kept and obviously the Brexit vote has been a big broken promise, “says Dominic.

Two years after the first independence referendum, in 2016, the United Kingdom held the referendum to ask whether citizens wanted to leave the European Union. The results showed 52% in favor of the exit and 48% against. However, 62% of voters in Scotland chose “no“at the exit of the United Kingdom. The decision of the House of Commons to execute the exit of the United Kingdom from the European bloc, when in Scotland a majority had opposed, began to raise blisters in the northern nation. 2016 manifesto, the SNP argued that “Scotland was being removed from the European Union against its wish” and that would justify a second referendum.

Many of those who chose to stay in the UK also changed their minds. This is the case of Elisabeth. “In Scotland the desire to break with the dishonesty of Westminster has increased. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union,” he says. “Brexit was just the beginning. The ensuing lies and dishonesty by the current government in Westminster have led a large number of voters who wanted to be part of the UK to consider how things would be if Scotland were independent.”

Of the five main political forces, only the SNP is a party that emerged in Scotland. The rest of the political parties are political forces derived from the Westminster Parliament. Perhaps that is why he has been in government since 2007.

“For me, the SNP is not a nationalist movement like it is in other countries with the false idea that they are better than any other. It is not that kind of nationalist pride. Instead, they are driven more by self-determination. During the For the last 11 years the Conservative Party has ruled Westminster and they are not a popular political party in Scotland. It seems that many of London’s decisions are not made with the best interests of Scotland in mind. And that seems to be the main reason for much of people who vote for independence, “says Fraser, another young Scotsman.

“Until now, the Scots, even if they were not pro-independence, voted a lot for the SNP because, somehow, they did more things for Scotland, they cared more than other parties about ‘sweeping home’ in London,” says Benjamin, adding that even many of those who are not in favor of independence also vote for the SNP because it has always looked after the interests of the Scots.

However, these elections have a new pro-independence force: the Alba party. This new formation could worsen the results of the SNP.

A recent survey by YouGov points out that 55% of SNP voters would be against a coalition with the Alba Party, while 72% of those surveyed support a coalition for independence with the Green Party. This could be due, in part, to the internal divisions that caused the scandal in which the former leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, was involved.

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