Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Boris Johnson rejects Scottish government request for second independence referendum

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum in a brief official letter published today.

“The Scottish people voted decisively to keep our United Kingdom together, a result which both the Scottish and UK Governments committed to respect,” the prime minister tweeted, attaching the official document.

Johnson reminded Sturgeon that she had made a personal promise that the 2014 Scottish independence referendum would be a “once in a generation” vote.

The result of that referendum, in which more than 55 percent of Scots voted to remain a part of the U.K., means another vote would be pointless, Johnson argued.

Instead he suggested that it is in Scotland’s interest not to devote valuable time to discussions about whether the nation should become independent while there are urgent domestic issues to tackle.

“Another independence referendum would continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade, with Scottish schools, hospitals and jobs again left behind because of a campaign to separate the UK,” the PM wrote.

Sturgeon has argued that Britain’s decision to leave the EU justifies holding another referendum on Scottish independence, given a majority of Scots voted against Brexit in 2016.

Scotland’s independence road got longer

GLASGOW — Scotland’s nationalists are coming to terms with a longer trudge toward their dream of independence than they had hoped.

The decisive victory of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the U.K. general election has dashed any hopes of an independence referendum this year. Scotland’s nationalist government needs formal permission to hold such a vote from Westminster, which will not be forthcoming, despite the prime minister’s promise to “carefully consider” a request.

But Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, and her troops are steeling themselves for the long game. They are banking on the argument that with Brexit now on track for January 31, Remain-voting Scotland will be wrenched from the EU against its will.

Her Scottish National Party argues that Indyref 2, as it has become known, is warranted because of Scotland’s changed status since the previous “once in a generation” referendum vote in 2014, in which the independence camp lost. If the U.K.’s divorce turns sour, then that argument will likely become more potent.

Right to choose

Scotland’s leader lost no time after the election result in setting out her stall for Indyref 2. Even before Johnson had made it back to the House of Commons despatch box, her government published Scotland’s Right to Choose — a document laying out the case for breaking away.

“We have a situation where the vast majority of people in Scotland do not want Brexit” — Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish first minister

Its reasoning is that Scotland must now, regrettably, reconsider its place in the U.K. due to the untold damage it argues Brexit will cause and the subjugation of the nation’s interests by a dominant England. 

This is a shift from the optimism and promise that characterized the 2014 Yes campaign, but which was undermined by a failure of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) to adequately address key economic questions. 

But if the sell is different, the mechanism is the same — a legal referendum, which must be sanctioned by Johnson’s government. Sturgeon is unwavering in her belief that independence can only be achieved by such a route, and will not consider holding a rogue vote as Catalan separatists did in Spain in 2017. While such a vote might deliver the result Sturgeon wants, London may find it easy to dismiss the vote, as Madrid did with Catalonia. 

But with support for independence bouncing stubbornly between 42 and 45 percent over the last 12 months, the SNP hopes to alchemize a swing in voters outraged at Brexit, and the prospect of untrammeled rule by Johnson’s Tories.

Domestic dangers

At the decade’s inaugural First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon reminded the chamber, which had voted the previous day to withhold consent for the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, that “we have a situation where the vast majority of people in Scotland do not want Brexit.” 

Nicola Sturgeon could well also be tripped up by local scandals involving sub-standard public services | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Still, other factors threaten to spoil Sturgeon’s pitch. The trial of Alex Salmond, former Scottish first minister and SNP leader, for an alleged string of sexual assaults, is due to begin in March.

Salmond remains something of a totemic figure in sections of the party and the wider pro-independence movement, evidenced by the six-figure crowdfund he raised to finance a judicial review of the Scottish government’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations against him. The trial threatens weeks of odious coverage for Sturgeon.

Away from the courts is another pressing concern: Scotland’s budget. The U.K. government’s decision to delay its budget until March 11 led to allegations from Scotland’s Finance Secretary Derek Mackay that the Westminster government was being “disrespectful” to the Edinburgh parliament

Mackay had planned to set out his budget in December but had to hold off because of the snap general election. The delay means a much curtailed time period in which to draw up a budget for Scotland, which Mackay says poses a risk to public services and local government funding. If disruptions to services such as health care or transport do arise, Scottish voters might blame the SNP government, despite its protestations.

Sturgeon could well also be tripped up by local scandals involving sub-standard public services. At a major new hospital in Glasgow, water quality linked by campaigners to poor building standards has been implicated in the deaths of several children. Another new hospital’s opening has been delayed by over a year. Public inquiries into both cases will guarantee unwanted headlines. 

Sturgeon’s best hope of forcing Boris Johnson to agree to granting Indyref 2 lies in the next Scottish parliament election in May 2021.

One upside for Sturgeon is her under par opposition. The Scottish Conservatives remain without a leader, and the race to replace Ruth Davidson is likely to expose fault lines, with the party north of the border less keen on Johnson’s populist brand.

Scottish Labour — until recently the dominant force in the nation’s politics — had another hideous election in December, losing six seats and leaving a foothold of just one MP. Over the festive break, a prominent member of the Scottish parliament argued for a divorce from the U.K. party. Debate over whether the Scottish party is merely a “branch office” with no real autonomy has been rekindled, providing easy material for SNP speechwriters. 

Still, media reports on Thursday suggested a coming executive committee meeting will see major policy changes discussed, including support for an Indyref 2 vote and secession from the U.K. party. 

With Johnson’s position cemented by his 80-seat majority, Sturgeon’s best hope of forcing him to agree to granting Indyref 2 lies in the next Scottish parliament election in May 2021. A big majority for her party in that parliament would bolster her democratic case for holding another vote on separation. That will mean navigating a year of domestic traps for her government.

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