Nobody is caught off guard. The vote this Thursday in Scotland will have serious consequences throughout the United Kingdom . What is at stake is much more than the election of the 129 Scottish Parliament seats in Edinburgh.
The great victory of the pro-independence forces that the polls point to will make it much more difficult for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to continue refusing to hold a second referendum . Nicola Sturgeon argues that Johnson would lack any “democratic, electoral or moral justification to object .”
The crisis of the pandemic will force a delay in the consultation, but its celebration at the end of 2023 will be final, according to the chief minister, ready to take the dispute with the central government to court, validating the momentum she expects at the polls. “If Boris Johnson wants to stop it (the referendum), he will have to take legal action,” he told Sky News. “The courts will have to decide.”
The referendum has monopolized the Scottish campaign. In the last debate between the main candidates, Sturgeon rejected the accusation of the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross , that he was willing to hold an ” illegal ” consultation , bypassing the authorization of the Westminster Parliament. ”
That is not true, it is libel, ” replied the head of the Scottish National Party (SNP). “What I have always said, sometimes gaining criticism from people who are on our same side, is that I am not going to accept an illegal referendum, mainly because that would not bring independence.”
If the British Prime Minister’s refusal persists, his plan is to try to hold the referendum with legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament and then subject its legality to the decision of the judges, which he would abide by. A constitutional breach that threatens the unity of the UK and Johnson himself.
The polls give the SNP a great victory and thereby ensure a fourth consecutive term in the Holyrood parliament. The only question is whether it will reach an absolute majority. Their votes, added to those of the Greens, also in favor of separation and the seats that Alba, the new formation of veteran Alex Salmond , could win , would grant the forces in favor of independence 60% of the seats in the autonomy , according to survey firm Panelbase.
Under the hybrid electoral system in Scotland, voters vote twice. One ballot is for the candidate in each constituency and a second for the party with the most votes, in a regional list with 56 deputies in total. It is in that second in which Salmond puts his hopes of returning to politics, after his trial for sexual abuse, of which he was declared innocent and transformed from Sturgeon’s mentor into his enemy.
Salmond is looking for a pro-independence ” supermajority ” and wants to speed up the consultation, thus putting pressure on Sturgeon, at the risk of dividing the nationalist movement. The chief minister accuses him of “gambling with the future of the country.” If Alba wins seats, he intends to start negotiations for independence immediately.
Sturgeon preaches caution and wants to prioritize recovery from the crisis caused by the pandemic right now. After the push in the polls that the Scottish rejection of Brexit gave to the split proposal in a second consultation, the covid has reduced that momentum. His supporters are now tied with those who wish to remain in the union.