The Scottish National Party (SNP), which has vowed to hold an independence referendum that could tear the United Kingdom apart if it returns to power, headed for victory on Saturday in Scotland’s parliament election but without an outright majority.
The SNP says it will seek to hold a new vote on secession if a pro independence majority is returned to the devolved 129-seat parliament, setting the stage for a showdown with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson has said he would refuse any such vote because Scots backed staying in the United Kingdom in 2014.
Results on Saturday showed the SNP well on course for a fourth consecutive term in office having triumphed in 57 of the 68 seats declared so far.
It failed, however, to win the key battleground seat of Aberdeenshire West – a result commentators said meant it was highly unlikely to obtain an overall majority, falling one or two seats short.
The electoral system – which allocates 56 seats on a proportional representation basis that helps smaller parties – means the SNP is unlikely to gain enough additional seats amid signs of some tactical voting by pro union supporters.
Final results are due later on Saturday.
There is still likely to be a pro-independence majority even if the SNP falls short because the Green Party also backs secession. But supporters of the union argue that without an SNP majority, there is no mandate for a referendum.
Scottish politics has been diverging from other parts of the United Kingdom for some time, but Scots remain split over holding another vote on whether to end their country’s 314-year union with England and Wales.
‘IRRESPONSIBLE AND RECKLESS’
Britain’s exit from the EU – opposed by a majority of Scots – as well as a perception that Sturgeon’s government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well, and antipathy to Johnson’s Conservative government in London, have bolstered support for Scotland’s independence movement.
Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom by 55% to 45% in 2014, and Johnson has called that a “once in a generation” vote. Polls suggest the outcome of a second referendum would be too tight to call.
The British government says Johnson must approve any vote for it to be legal and he has made clear he would not do so.
“I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Sturgeon has ruled out holding any vote until after the pandemic, with the SNP indicating it would be held by the end of 2023.
She argues there would be no moral or democratic justification for Johnson to refuse a referendum if the Scottish parliament passed a bill to hold one.
“The results are looking like what we expected, that with the Scottish Greens there will be a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament and we take that as a clear mandate from the Scottish people to hold another referendum,” Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, told the BBC.
“I think Boris Johnson doesn’t want a referendum because he knows he’s going to lose.”
With Sturgeon ruling out holding an illegal or wildcat plebiscite, it is likely that the issue will ultimately be decided by Britain’s top court.
Responding to a suggestion the matter would end up before judges, Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: “Only if the Tories (Conservatives) refuse to accept Scottish democracy and go to court in an attempt to overturn it – which seems rather an important point of context.