- + Westminster has continuous sovereignty over Sturgeon’s pandemic response.
- + The leader has gained support by playing victim to Westminster’s restrictions.
- + Sturgeon’s chilly leadership can expect significant limits to Scotland’s rejoining of the EU and any rise in the international sphere.
Why is Sturgeon’s heat level chilly?
Answer: Her plans for a COVID response and Scottish independence has been met with chilly opposition.
On the 24th January, Nicola Sturgeon published the Scottish National Party’s roadmap for a second independence referendum, re-enabling the Scottish people to decide whether or not to gain independence from the rest of the UK. Following Brexit, this has allowed breadth for Sturgeon and the SNP to gain particular support from Scots who believe Scotland should re-enter the EU.
The path to Scottish independence and ultimately membership to the EU is far more convoluted. As seen by Sturgeon’s feeble pandemic response limited by her devolved powers being undermined by Westminster, her strong leadership is constantly limited by the governance in London. This is particularly the case under Johnson, who has repeatedly refused Sturgeon’s request to enable Section 30 to allow for a second referendum.
Sturgeon’s revealed plans for the pandemic recovery plan is one that, on the surface, is fundamentally different to the feebleness of the British government, including her own dubbed “game changing” domestic policies: the Scottish child payment and plans for a £100m green jobs fund. However, she has faced institutional limitations to imposing a travel ban between Scotland and England in order to reduce the spread of infection.
But how far can she mask her innately weak leadership by institutional restrictions applied by Westminster? Sturgeon has attempted re-election with the SNP’s prototypical promise of a second independence referendum, but should Westminster use their jurisdiction to overrule, Sturgeon’s independence mandate would prove obsolete.
What is changing Sturgeon’s heat level?
Answer: Constitutional limits, party divisions and non-compliance from Westminster is proving a difficult leadership for Sturgeon.
Despite Sturgeon gaining support from 59% of voters who say they have a more positive view of her than pre-pandemic, the crisis serves as a harsh reminder of her lack of power. Institutional limits of the devolution act have continuously limited Holyrood’s governing, and Sturgeon’s leadership is no different.
The Scotland Act of 1998 that devolved power to Scottish Parliament was revolutionary in nature but exhibits an array of limitations for the governance of Holyrood. In her response to the pandemic, Sturgeon has been met with limitations particularly in the area of closing the border connecting the country to England, a coronavirus hotspot. In Westminster, Sturgeon’s desire to close the border has not been welcomed, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming that there simply is no border. Constitutionally, these powers are reserved to Westminster.
With England being a coronavirus hotspot and Sturgeon lacking the legal jurisdiction to close the border and enforce a travel ban by law, her leadership, weakened by her lack of devolved powers has been amplified during the pandemic. Westminster’s unwillingness to comply only suggest a further chilly leadership for Sturgeon, particularly surrounding her most ambitious aim: Scottish independence.
Independence and EU membership discussion is too, dominated by a constitutional predicament. Should Boris Johnson choose to withhold Sturgeon’s go-ahead for the referendum, her options are significantly limited. One of them being a Catalan-style wildcat vote, which will face legal and union opposition and could affect her image in international politics.
Further, the SNP is fragmented and ill-defined in its ideology outside of the consensus of independence. Should Sturgeon achieve the SNP’s key manifesto promise of independence and gain a grounding as a global leader, in-party divisions will be brought to light and prove to be far more problematic.
What is driving Sturgeon?
Answer: Following Brexit and Westminster’s COVID-19 response, Sturgeon is mobilising support for political gain as a global leader.
In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that the SNP would continuously push for Scottish independence again, this time with the intentions to re-join the EU. Thus, Sturgeon’s inherent ideological allegiance to both her party and Europe is driving her in governing Scotland into a pro-Europe era of independence. With the initial EU referendum turnout in 2016 producing a 62% remain count from Scots, Sturgeon has sensed that momentum could gain a Scottish independence once and for all, using Brexit as an opportunity for huge political gain.
Flipping disadvantages on its head, Sturgeon has managed to downplay criticism received for her own governance by laying the blame on her lack of devolved power. This is a tactic key to the SNPs gain in public opinion, an electoral support that is needed to allow her to gain power as a leader, ultimately driving her in decision making.
Accused of constitutional squabbling vis a vis a public health crisis, Sturgeon’s struggle to make legal decisions during her pandemic response has only reaffirmed her desire to seek independence to uphold a powerful leadership image.
Sturgeon has, in the past, been praised as a strong female leader. In hopes to fulfil such a title, she is driven by the globally male-dominated political world to attain a strong leadership, particularly as her time in power has seen a continuous butting of heads with her male oppositions in Westminster. The polls suggest that Sturgeon could be right in thinking that Scottish independence could produce a pro-EU vote, with 63% of Scots admitting they would rejoin the EU if given the chance. Entering Scotland into the EU would give her international scope to rise as a leader.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: Scotland joining the EU as an independent state could mean a success for the EU
Should Sturgeon’s independence referendum prove to be a success, we can expect far more contribution from Scotland in the geo-political sphere. A bid for Scottish domination could arise in areas such as fisheries in the North Sea, which could offer implications for Scandinavian countries.
For Brits, a Scottish independence and membership to the EU could exhibit tensions between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Particularly during the early days of independence, Scotland will have to make huge concessions domestically. From establishing departments to undoing any divergence from EU Law the UK made during the Brexit era. A membership to the EU for a newly independent country requires effort but Scotland is an advanced democracy with a free market economy, thus is likely to meet the Copenhagen criteria both politically and economically. A somewhat straightforward acceptance from the EU is expected should Scotland vote in.
For Europeans and EU officials, welcoming Scotland to the EU could provide a regain of power following the kick of Brexit.