While the UK general election saw a huge win for the Conservatives and was seen as driven by a desire to leave the EU, it also saw the Scottish National Party win big in Scotland, winning 48 seats of the 59 seats in Scotland, up from 35 seats in the previous parliament but less than the high of 56 they won in 2015. The Conservative vote totals in Scotland decreased by 3.5% and the party lost seven seats, going down to just six. This widens the split between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It should be remembered that Scotland voted against Brexit in 2016 and the new results have fueled moves to have another referendum on Scottish independence so that if it passes, they can rejoin the EU. The last independence referendum lost by a margin of 45-55% in 2014.
“We stood on a clear and unequivocal platform of rejecting Brexit and giving the people of Scotland a choice over their future – ensuring Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands,” said Ian Blackford, their Westminster leader.
This week [SNP leader Nicola] Sturgeon will publish a new document she hopes will define the case for independence and strengthen her demands for the powers to stage a second referendum.
On Thursday a separate bill is due to be voted through at Holyrood setting out how referendums in Scotland will be run. For supporters of independence there is now an inescapable sense of momentum, and of an opportunity greater than in 2014 when they fought and lost the first referendum.
Boris Johnson has vowed not to allow a referendum and this sets the stage for a constitutional struggle. It is also not clear how much the votes for the SNP translate into votes in favor of independence, and there will be many hurdles to overcome.
Sturgeon has been choosing her language carefully, framing the case for a referendum around choice. To her frustration, Westminster’s chaotic handling of Brexit and Johnson’s subsequent election as Tory leader has not led to a surge in support for independence.
The polls show support averaging around 48%. The latest poll by YouGov for the Times the week before the election found a five-point fall in the yes vote, down to 44% excluding don’t knows.
But the polls also show evidence of a potential yes vote ready to be tapped. Several this year have said the combination of a Johnson government and Brexit could nudge the yes vote above 50%. There is higher support for holding a referendum, and polls that ask the question show a majority of Scots expect independence to take place over the next decade. Thanks to the new referendum bill, EU citizens in Scotland would be able to vote too, which is expected to boost the yes vote.
Johnson’s Brexit model will be another strong card. Sturgeon will focus on his decision to give Northern Ireland special protections, keeping it within the EU’s customs union and retaining an open border with Ireland, and will ask why Scotland does not get similar privileges. She will focus on any moves by the UK to dilute EU environmental, social or food standards rules.
Sturgeon will face searching questions about how an independent Scotland could maintain public services while driving down that deficit; whether there would be a customs border at Berwick and Gretna Green, with tariffs inhibiting trade with the rest of the UK; whether Scotland could continue using sterling as its currency and still apply for EU membership; and how Scotland could continue to afford to fund pensions without the UK’s financial support.
This is just one of the many post-Brexit issues that will need to be negotiated or adjudicated by the courts.