It appears that the recent local elections in the UK have provided some momentum for the move for Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party that supports independence won 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish and will form the next government and their leader Nicola Sturgeon has said that they will seek another referendum on the issue.
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to press ahead with plans for a second independence referendum after the Scottish National party won its fourth consecutive Holyrood election, triggering a constitutional battle with Boris Johnson.
In a letter issued before the final results were declared, Johnson attempted to blunt Sturgeon’s attack by urging the first minister and her opposite numbers in Wales and Northern Ireland to join a UK-wide Covid recovery summit involving all four governments.
It was in the UK’s interests for the governments to work collaboratively, the British prime minister wrote, taking a softer approach than on Friday when called a fresh referendum “irresponsible and reckless”.
Sturgeon said Scottish voters had given Holyrood a clear mandate by electing a pro-independence majority larger than that in the last Holyrood parliament, with eight Green MSPs elected across Scotland’s regions. It was an “extraordinary” result, she said.
In a victory speech in Glasgow, the first minister said any attempt by the UK government to block that would be a democratic outrage. “It is the will of the country,” she said, buoyed up by a record 64% turnout for a Holyrood election.
The question on whether a referendum will be held is a complex one.
The Scottish government has indicated that it will bring in a referendum bill and challenge the UK government to contest it in the supreme court. If it does, it is likely that the court will strike it down on the grounds that the Scotland Act clearly states that the union between Scotland and England is a matter reserved to Westminster. The UK government will refuse to grant a “section 30 order”, as it did for 2014, allowing the Scottish government to hold a referendum. The SNP leadership has made it clear that it will not defy the law or hold a Catalan-style unilateral referendum. It is aware, unlike the Catalans, that the only route to international recognition is through an agreement with the UK. Even if the Scottish government were to find a way to stage a purely advisory referendum (in effect, a giant opinion poll), Westminster would not react like the Spanish authorities and send in the police to disrupt it. More likely, it would simply ignore it.
If a referendum on independence is held and passes, it is likely that Scotland will try to rejoin the EU, since they voted to remain in the Brexit referendum. This means another customs and tariffs border headache with England, to add to the existing difficulties with the border between the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK and is out of the EU).
Northern Ireland’s trading relationship with the EU was settled before the TCA [EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement] by the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. It means that Northern Ireland remains subject to EU customs law and huge swathes of EU law on trade in goods.
Designed to avoid checks at the Irish border, the new trade barriers with the rest of the UK are becoming increasingly apparent, with supermarket shelves empty in Northern Ireland because British suppliers are being held up by customs bureaucracy. In the long term, Northern Ireland may have to rely less on Great Britain and strengthen supply chains and distribution networks with Ireland.
This is going to pose a problem for UK prime minister Boris Johnson. He will have to tread very delicately to avoid antagonizing the many constituencies involved, not exactly his strong suit.