A lot is riding on this May’s elections in Scotland. If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wins again, she intends to hold a vote that would flout UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson—and buck centuries of history.
The United Kingdom is made up of four distinct countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. These countries are all governed by the British monarchy and parliament. However, each has its own officials, flags, currency, and cultural identity.
After several wars against invading English forces in the 1200s and 1300s, Scotland became a formal part of the United Kingdom since 1707. Scottish citizens mostly accepted their role as part of the UK—and the money and protection that came along with it.
But following World War II, citizens of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales began taking greater pride in their separate countries. Many political organizations in these states pushed for independence from the United Kingdom.
In 2014, Scotland put independence to a vote. Emotions ran high on both sides of the issue. Citizens elected to remain in the United Kingdom by a small margin. At the time, folks called the vote a “once-in-a-generation event.” But First Minister Sturgeon believes it’s time to revisit the question of Scottish independence.
Sturgeon says that Brexit has changed the situation. She insists Britain has dragged Scotland out of the European Union against its will. After all, when a narrow majority of UK voters opted to leave the EU in 2016, the majority of Scots voted to stay.
A referendum is a vote by citizens on a political question. Ordinarily, such votes are not binding. That is, neither the government nor parliament must accept the outcome. But any referendum pressures lawmakers to listen to the people. Sturgeon hopes to hold a binding referendum—one that must be implemented.
A string of recent opinion polls suggests a small majority supports Scotland’s becoming an independent country. Sturgeon says if her Scottish National Party (SNP) wins a majority in the Scottish Parliament in May, it will pass legislation allowing for a new referendum once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Opposition parties in Scotland say Sturgeon should be focusing on defeating the coronavirus and supporting the economy, rather than planning for independence.
There is one catch in Sturgeon’s plan: A vote on independence requires the UK government’s approval. The prime minister insists he’ll say no.
To that, Sturgeon says, “Boris Johnson just clearly fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people.”