Nicola Sturgeon’s hot road towards a second independence referendum

  • + Sturgeon takes advantage of the boost in support for independence in Scotland.
  • + Neither UK nor the EU seem to be keen on Sturgeon’s independence plans.
  • + Sturgeon is the forerunner for the upcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament. 
Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish Government Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Why is Nicola Sturgeon’s heat level hot?

Answer: Sturgeon is taking advantage of the displeasure over Brexit to push for an independence referendum 

The Scottish Parliament was established in 1998 through the Scotland Act. This meant that the Parliament of the UK, also referred to as Westminster, delegated powers from the central government to the newly created Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. The fact that they decided to build the Parliament in front of the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland was just another demonstration of the constant discrepancies between the two nations over the centuries. It also shows that the fight for independence is not a thing of today, but that it has been embedded within the Scottish culture and its people nearly since the union of the two nations. 

It looked like these discrepancies reached their peak with the 2014 “Yes Scotland” referendum. The question asked was a simple one, “should Scotland be an independent country?” and Scotland voted no. However, with 55.3% for no and 44,7% for yes there was way too little margin to call the result completely decisive, an argument that Nicola Sturgeon is using to promote the second independence referendum. 

Nicola Sturgeon became head of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in 2014 after the previous leader and First Minister of Scotland, Alexander Saldmon, resigned over the outcome of the referendum. In spite of the results, Sturgeon was elected in November 2014 as First Minister of Scotland, a position she still holds, being also the first woman to do so. 

Polls suggested that one of the main reasons why the Scottish people voted against independence was because that would mean abandoning the European Union. This was supported by the Brexit referendum, in which 62% of Scots voted to remain.

However, with the approval of Brexit, the SNP can come back from that first fiasco having a perfect argument for independence as, according to them, Scotland had been dragged out of the EU against its will. 

Once the Brexit results were out, Sturgeon declared that she would hold the second independence referendum until the terms of Brexit were set, this was in 2016. It wasn’t till the last days of 2020, when the UK and the EU managed to agree on the terms of Brexit, merely days before the deadline, something that has left a profound discontent amongst the Brits. 

Seeing that Scotland has ended up out of the EU and that the terms of the Brexit agreement aren’t strictly beneficial for the nation, it seems like the public opinion has shifted towards independence. Therefore, Sturgeon will try to use this dissatisfaction to her benefit and introduce legislation soon to set the rules for another vote. According to the latest polls, this second one might end up being successful as, of those who would be likely to vote in an independence referendum, 56% say they would vote Yes while 44% would vote No.

Who is changing Sturgeon’s level?

Which elements have impacted the level of Sturgeon ?

Answer: Upcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament will determine Sturgeon’s possibilities to carry out the referendum.

If the decision of a new referendum depended only on Sturgeon, based on the polls, we would say that her heat level is blazing. However, this is not the case , and although she has the people’s support, she still has some battles to fight. 

First of all, elections to the Scottish Parliament will be held in May this year, elections that Sturgeon would not only have to win, but also obtain a majority. This doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment as polls show that 47% of Scots would vote for Sturgeon and the SNP. This means that the nationalist party would obtain 73 out of the 129 seats in Parliament, enough margin to pass the bills allowing the referendum. 

Secondly, and this is where the problem is, in order for the referendum of independence to be legal, Westminster has to approve it, something unlikely at the moment. Nevertheless, Sturgeon would still have another card to play. If she is elected as First Minister again, she could request a Section 30 order, a Section under the Scotland Act 1998 that allows the Scottish Parliament to pass laws usually reserved to Westminster.

Sturgeon plans to apply for this on the basis that there is no moral or democratic right for the referendum to be denied. Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, is clearly against this and he’s even gotten to the point of contacting former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to discuss strategies about how to combat the SNP. 

Sturgeon is not only facing difficulties from Westminster, within the Scottish Parliament there are MPs reproaching her about prioritizing the referendum to the current pandemic and economic situation. Alongside with this, Andrew Neil, a famous Scottish journalist and broadcaster, challenges Sturgeon by warning her about the recession Scotland will go into if she goes forwards with the referendum. An independent Scotland’s economy would be mainly sustained by the North Sea oil, at least for the first years, which is rather risky. In face of this, the Scottish government created in 2016 the Sustainable Growth Commission, in order to find new prosperous economic strategies for an independent Scotland. 

Although she has a few open fronts, both with the Scottish and national governments, Sturgeon has managed to gather people’s support which is what in the end will matter for the referendum to be carried out. 

What is driving Sturgeon?

Answer: The problems that Brexit has brought up might rise the nationalist sentiment in Scotland.

The SNP has always advocated for independence and, as head of the party, it is no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon follows the same line of thought. As it has been mentioned, later analysis of the first referendum shows that the main reason why Scotland voted no to independence was because the population wanted to stay in the European Union, something that would not happen if they became their own country. With Brexit that happened anyways. 

Sturgeon wants to take advantage of the current situation. Not only Brexit, but also the pandemic has improved her chances, both at the electoral table in May and at the referendum. While public support for Boris Johnson has plummeted throughout the pandemic Sturgeon has the support of 71% of Scots, data that can be used to prove that she has Scotland’s best interest at heart, which is basically the idea behind Scottish independence, the right of people to decide the form of government that best answers to their needs. 

Knowing this and that those against the referendum will accuse her of causing instability at the worst possible time, Sturgeon is trying to find a compromise and consensus amongst MPs, also showing how the Scottish Parliament is different from Westminster.  

Therefore, if Sturgeon is capable of maintaining this strategy as well as the public’s support, she might be able to overpass Johnson’s and Westminster’s veto and finally get a yes to Scottish independence. 

What does it mean for you?

Answer: From both EU and UK perspective. The referendum might bring a burst of nationalist sentiments both in the continent and in the Islands. 

In terms of the European Union, it is highly improbable that Scotland will be accepted in it if it becomes an independent country. Firstly, the process wouldn’t be immediate, there are already a number of countries going through the process of being accepted into the Union, and the latest one to apply for the adhesion was Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2016. But the main obstacle for Scotland to be accepted is that the consent of all EU members is needed which it will not get as this would boost the nationalist movements in other member states such as Spain and Belgium.

In the UK, the independence referendum in Scotland could open up the way for the other nations within it, Northern Ireland and Wales. Westminster is currently seeing how they might end up fighting in every front. In Northern Ireland the left-wing nationalist party, Sinn Féin, broke the bipartidism that had been the norm in the Northern Irish Parliament for the last ninety years. Also boosted by Sturgeon’s insistence, Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, is asking for another independence referendum simultaneous to the Scottish one. Therefore, if Sturgeon has her way, we might be witnesses to the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.