5. September 2017

Is Scotland Ready for a Second Independence Referendum?

The formula seems simple: Brexit plus a hung parliament plus an already failed referendum equals another shot at independence for Scotland. But how do the Scots feel about a second referendum?

A Comment by David Tschorr


On 19 September 2014, it was announced that Scotland has rejected independence by 55 percent to 45 percent. Right before the vote, the leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmon was very confident of victory. Much to his regret, however, the SNP was not able to secure a majority (the No camp won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 votes in favour of independence). Salmon consequently resigned as First Minister and was succeeded by Nicola Sturgeon.

In the following years, the SNP continually reminded Westminster of the possibility to hold another referendum. Yet, Sturgeon made clear in April 2015, that a vote for the SNP in the 2016 Holyrood elections would not automatically equal a vote for a second referendum.


A General Election, a Confident Party and a Path of Frustration

In the 2017 UK General Election, the SNP could not benefit from the staggering Prime Minister Theresa May and her imprecise plan for Brexit. Surely, the Scottish Nationalists were hoping to gather more pro-EU voters, who were unsatisfied with the way May and her Brexit team handled potential pre-talks with the EU. But instead of winning, the SNP lost 21 of their 56 seats. They could only secure 36,9 percent of the overall votes. A decrease of 13.1 points compared to the election in 2015. The most painful loss was perhaps the seat of Alex Salmond that went straight to the Scottish Conservatives, the SNP’s Scottish opponent.


Reasons for Rejection and Cross-Party Clear Words

The issue of a floating window that leads the way out of the Kingdom was hanging above the SNP’s eligibility like the sword of Damocles. Just one day after the General Election, the Deputy First Minister John Swinney admitted that the possibility of another referendum actually led to the disappointing results. This could stem from Sturgeon’s call for another independence referendum, whether a Brexit deal has been concluded or not. In 2014, the campaign for the first referendum was hashtagged #indyref. While in 2017, supporters use #indyref2 to discuss Scotland’s independence online. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson went even beyond Swinney’s remarks and stated that “we have seen the country’s reaction in the number of SNP seat’s falling. Indyref2 is dead.“


Game Over for #indyref2? Never Underestimate the Scots!

That post-election spur of the moment does not automatically mean that the SNP will quit on their goal of an independent Scotland. Pro-EU voices can still be heard in Scotland, and the results of the Scottish 2016 Holyrood Election were highly in favour of the Scottish Nationalists. In the aftermath of the failed referendum, the party lost six of its 69 previous seats. But in the end, the overall number of seats nearly equaled the combined seats of the other parties, only falling short of a majority by two seats. Therefore, with a vote share of 46,5 percent, the SNP remains the party of the Scottish people and will not stop to fight for their interest.

The support for the SNP is still strong, even though Nicola Sturgeon’s fierce statements have irritated some voters. But due to the uncertainties in the Brexit negotiations, the people’s commitment will grow slowly but steadily. Because most of the Scottish people have a pro-EU stance and prefer a soft Brexit instead of accepting the current hard-Brexit agenda.


Waiting for Brexit

Yes, the Scottish Nationalists suffered a blow to their ambitious goal. And yes, another referendum seems unlikely. According to the latest pollsa majority of 60 percent wants Sturgeon to discontinue her plans for a second referendum. With one third of the former Yes votes in the first independence referendum agreeing with this, it was no surprise that Sturgeon has to put her dream on hold. But if you “put something on hold”, you decide not to deal with it now. Taking the Scottish First Minister at her words, the time for #indyref2 is “not now, but when the final terms of the (Brexit) deal are known“.

What is left for onlookers like us? Well, we have to wait until autumn 2019 and hope that by then the UK-EU relations have not turned bitter like vinegar. In the meantime, we can only watch the progress in the UK and other EU member states with a similar pattern.


The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image source: „First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Bute House, Edinburgh, working on final draft of Section 30 letter to Prime Minister Theresa May“, First Minister of Scotland, http://bit.ly/2wvMlch, lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 2.0.: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.


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