Nicola Sturgeon’s election demands could backfire and kill off her hopes of Scottish independence
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used her speech at her Scottish National Party conference on Tuesday to demand a new independence referendum and a general election.Recent polling suggests the party is on course to gain seats, as Scots turn towards independence.However her demand for a general election could backfire if Johnson regains a majority in…
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used her speech at her Scottish National Party conference on Tuesday to demand a new independence referendum and a general election.
- Recent polling suggests the party is on course to gain seats, as Scots turn towards independence.
- However her demand for a general election could backfire if Johnson regains a majority in the UK parliament, as most polls suggest.
- Here are the 3 things we learned at the SNP’s annual conference.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND — The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon closed out her Scottish National Party conference in Aberdeen with a demand for a second referendum next year, as well as a general election.
The speech came as recent polling suggests that Brexit is pushing Scots towards wanting to leave the UK.
However, while Sturgeon and her party are on a high right now, her demand for a general election could end up undoing the progress she has made towards her aim of tearing up her country’s union with the United Kingdom.
Here is what we learned at the SNP’s conference this week.
1. Support for independence is surging due to Brexit
The SNP’s pledge to stop Brexit has become one of its two main pillars along with independence, with nearly two-thirds of voters north of the border opting to Remain in the EU.
While the pledge to reverse the EU referendum was repeated for the duration of the conference, the reality is that Brexit is driving a significant increase in support for an independent Scotland, the SNP’s original raison d’être.
The proportion of Scottish voters who back independence hit 50% last week, the highest level of support recorded in more than seven years of Panelbase polls for the Sunday Times — and it’s Remain voters who are driving it.
Read more: A near majority of Scots are now in favour of independence from the UK because of Brexit
Among Leave voters in Panelbase’s polling, support for independence flatlined at 32% last year and has stayed at that level. But among Remain voters, support for independence has increased from by 5 points to 56%. When Scots were asked how they would vote following a no-deal Brexit, the number of voters who would back independence rose by 4 points to 54%, a healthy lead for the Yes campaign which might reasonably be expected to rise once voters had experienced the predicted economic damage of such an outcome.
It means warnings in 2016 that Brexit could break up the union are coming to pass.
Nicola Sturgeon’s imminent request for an independence referendum is likely to be rejected, but if support among voters in Scotland continues to grow, a future Westminster government of any shade will find the clamour hard to ignore.
2. An independence referendum next year would be very risky
It remains possible that Scotland will win an independence referendum next year, perhaps if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was returned with a minority government and sought to enter into a coalition with the SNP.
But it is far from clear that a “Yes” vote for independence would prevail in such circumstances.
Why? For a start, a Labour-led government would hold an EU referendum which could see the UK vote to Remain in the EU. That would threaten to reverse the surge in support for independence since 2016 which appears to have been driven largely by Brexit.
And even if the UK did vote to leave the EU after a referendum, support for Yes is only on 50%. By definition, that means 50% of voters still wish to Remain in the union. Support for “Yes” increased significantly during the 2014 independence referendum campaign, while support for Leave increased significantly from the start of the 2016 EU referendum campaign, proving that pre-emptive polling is of limited use in predicting any outcome.
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That is the impossible bind in which Sturgeon finds herself: Brexit, a policy she bitterly opposes, may be necessary to deliver independence, the prize she most desperately seeks.
3. The SNP’s demand for an election could backfire
As with the Conservative and Labour conferences this year, the SNP conference took place in the shadow of an imminent general election which many MPs believe will happen this year — and which the SNP is vocally in favour of.
Unlike the fortunes of those two parties, whose fortunes in a snap election are very unclear, the SNP’s dominance in Westminster’s Scotland seats is relatively assured.
Polls of Westminster voting intention suggest that the SNP will increase its vote share in Scotland slightly, which could see the SNP win around 50 seats, allowing the party to retain its status as the third-largest in Westminster.
However, a snap general election could prove fatal to the SNP’s hopes of independence. The polls currently indicate that such a vote could hand the Conservative party a slim majority, which is currently paralysed with a working majority of minus 45.
A Boris Johnson-led government which had narrowly won an election on a manifesto which pledged to block Scottish independence would have little incentive to grant one. Furthermore, many Tory MPs who supported Remain are still chastened by the experience of voting in favour of a referendum which could lead to an outcome they bitterly oppose.
That means a snap election could prevent the prospect of a Scottish independence vote for at least another five years.
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