If Scotland could vote on its independence today what would the outcome be?
The general elections in the United Kingdom (UK) have brought many surprises. Few predicted a Conservative government, most foresaw the need to create a coalition, many claimed that forming a stable government would have been impossible and predicted a second election round. In Scotland, the elections saw the rise of the nationalists. After the negative result of last year’s referendum on Scottish independence many believed the Scottish National Party (SNP) would loose support. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon’s party went on to win 56 seats out of the 59 present in Scotland, an extraordinary improvement from the 6 won in 2010. The SNP is now the third-largest party in the House of Commons, behind the Conservatives and Labour, and it will be chairing two commissions, one of which will be the Scottish affairs committee.
- Thursday, 21 May 2015
What does this mean for Scotland?
The vote essentially reinforces the view held by many that Scotland is fundamentally different than the rest of the UK. Scottish political identity is generally far more left-wing than the rest of the country, they are advocators of green policies and of a strong welfare state. While traditionally Scotland has voted Labour, the party is no longer considered to represent some of Scotland’s most popular values. It is perhaps not surprising then that most Scottish people have opted for the more radical SNP. Many of the policies of Labour are actually similar to the ones of the SNP, such as tackling spending cuts and abolishing the tax on spare rooms, but the SNP has led a refreshing campaign that won the vote of Labour’s disaffected voters.
Crucially, while Scotland has moved even more towards the left, the rest of the UK has put in power the Conservatives, a party that only won one seat in Scotland, with an absolute majority. The resentment and frustration of being governed by a Conservative government was a driving force of the support for the Scottish referendum last year. Throughout the campaign Sturgeon has been careful enough to specify that the elections were not about Scotland’s independence and that if the SNP gained the majority in Scotland this would not have automatically translated into a new referendum put back on the agenda. Clearly, this was a political strategy aimed at “not scaring” those in Scotland who do not wish to leave the UK. Yet, making Scotland independent is the very reason why the SNP exists in the first place. Therefore, over the past few days Sturgeon has also reminded the new government that while her party does not wish to impose a referendum on the people of Scotland if this is not what they wish, the government cannot prohibit a referendum from happening again either. The referendum is currently not on the table but, Sturgeon said, was the political situation to change, the possibility of another vote on Scotland’s independence would become reality. For instance, Scotland does not want to leave the European Union (EU) and it is likely that if the upcoming referendum will have a positive outcome Scotland will rather leave the UK than leave the EU. If one was to speculate, it could even be argued that if the Scottish people could vote today, the United Kingdom would cease to exist. For now, two things are certain: the country is more divided than ever and keeping it together will be one of the new government’s most difficult tasks.