The pressure for a second referendum on Scottish independence will step up after the Scottish National Party secured 64 of the 129 seats following Thursday’s (6 May) Scottish parliament elections and declared that an independence poll was “the will of the country”.
After the results were announced on Saturday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she had a mandate for a new referendum and added that “there is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future.”
Although the SNP narrowly missed out on an overall majority, with the support of the Green party, it will have a majority to demand a second referendum on independence.
Opinion polls suggest that there is roughly a 50-50 split between supporter of independence and those who wish Scotland to remain part of the UK.
Following the elections, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited the leaders of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to a ‘Team UK’ summit “to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them”.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson said that “talking about ripping our country apart” as people look to recover from the social and economic effects of the COVID pandemic was “irresponsible and reckless”.
In response, Sturgeon warned that any attempt to prevent a new referendum would “demonstrate conclusively that the UK is not a partnership of equals and that – astonishingly – Westminster no longer sees the UK as a voluntary union of nations”.
Without independence, the Scottish First Minister said that the country would “face many more years of right-wing Brexit-obsessed Tory governments that we don’t vote for”.
Johnson’s relations with the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, where Labour is in power, have been strained since he succeeded Theresa May in summer 2019. The devolved governments have accused him rarely consulting them on policy and of a post-Brexit power grab.
In local and mayoral elections in England, meanwhile, boosted by the fast pace of its vaccination programme and the lingering effects of Brexit, Johnson’s ruling Conservative party made a series of gains in local councils at the expense of the opposition Labour party, confounding the typical pattern of opposition parties making gains in mid-term elections.
Johnson’s Conservatives built on their success in the 2019 general elections where they dramatically increased their support in the north and midlands of England, and also won a House of Commons byelection in Hartlepool, a north east town that has always returned a Labour MP.
Labour leader Keir Starmer on Saturday sacked the party’s chair and election coordinator, Angela Raynor, and has announced a policy review, stating that his party had lost the trust of working people.
However, the results indicated that governing parties in the UK’s devolved institutions also benefited from an ‘incumbency’ factor, since health policy is a devolved competence. In Wales, where Labour runs the devolved government and First Minister Mark Drakeford has been praised for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, it matched its best ever performance, winning 30 out of 60 Welsh Assembly seats.
Drakeford responded to Boris Johnson’s summit invite by calling for the Prime Minister to rebuild “proper, respectful relationships” with the devolved governments.
Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan was also re-elected for a second term, although by a narrower margin than expected.