Scottish Independence: A Series of Hurdles

Scottish Independence: A Series of Hurdles


Giles Monks
Giles Monks
Scottish Independence: A Series of Hurdles

Scottish independence and a second referendum: a series of hurdles. 

Year 12 Politics have been studying devolution in the UK and its potential impact on the constitution, leading to calls for independence in Scotland. Students considered how the upcoming May elections in Scotland may present a new crisis for the UK.

Mr Monks

It’s been 6 years since the 2014 Scottish independence referendum lost to a close 55% ‘Remain’ vote. As the elections to Holyrood on the 6th May 2021 draws nearer, all eyes seem to be on Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson as the two clash over the possibility of a second referendum regarding Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. The First Minister has promised that should she return with a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament she will call for a second referendum and hopes to begin the process of Scottish independence from the UK amidst a wave of nationalism spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, as a poll from Panelbase shows 60% of those who were asked supported Scottish independence. Unfortunately for Sturgeon, achieving independence will not be that simple as she will be facing a series of hurdles.

Her first hurdle will be Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson has not been entirely covert in his displeasure for devolution. He stated in a virtual meeting with Conservative MPs that he thought Scottish devolution was a “disaster”. He has also been quoted on the campaign trail in 2019 as seeing “no reason” to permit a second referendum to take place. It seems that his main issue is the closeness in time between the two referendums; it should be a generational event not an often repeated one. This creates a serious problem for Sturgeon and her dreams of an independent Scotland, without the Prime Minister’s approval, no legislation enabling a referendum can take place – leaving Sturgeon’s attempts to realise Scottish independence stumped.

Her second hurdle will be the Constitutional Crisis that ensues.

Should Boris decline Sturgeon’s requests, a Constitutional Crisis will emerge, with the question being whether the Prime Minister can deny the request for a referendum. This question could grip British politics for months to come and dominate the Commons in a similar manner to Brexit. The Government will argue that they have not devolved this power of referendum to Scotland as  Westminster Parliament is Sovereign – only they can authorise referendums in the UK. But the SNP (potentially in alliance with Labour) will fight tooth and nail to deny this and argue that the will of the Scottish people should be enough for a referendum. Boris, if left with no other choice, can use his majority in Parliament to answer this question through Statute, but this will take time. Should the SNP lose this crisis Sturgeon will have to wait for a Prime Minister willing to seek Parliamentary approval for a second referendum. However, Sturgeon would still have one alternative left, to push on without a Westminster Parliamentary sanctioned referendum. Then a new crisis will arise asking if the ability to call a referendum is a reserved Constitutional power or not.

 

And her final hurdle will be the transition of power.

Even if successful, Sturgeon faces another final hurdle which is managing the transition of power should everything go her way and she is allowed and wins a referendum. As we saw with Brexit, it took nearly 4 years from the referendum to achieve ‘independence from the EU’ and with this internal referendum, it may take even longer. To create a truly independent Scotland the SNP will need to perform a variety of tasks: creating new institutions to replace British ones, forming a new Constitution, Head of State and diplomatic ties with important trade partners to name a few. All of this will take time as bureaucracies will have to be navigated and Bills will need to be passed. Furthermore, the SNP will need to fix the current deficit Scotland is facing, and replace the funding Scotland receives from the rest of the UK taxpayers to ensure a stable economic future for Scotland.

As the treacherous seas of political discourse await Sturgeon and the SNP, Scottish independence seems both nearer to realisation and potentially far away. Hope for the SNP is not lost however, according to polls, across the UK support for Scottish independence has never been higher and with a mandate from the Scottish electorate, it will be harder for Boris to deny Nicola Sturgeon’s request without facing serious consequences. 

All we can do is wait for the process to begin on the 6th May, where the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom may well be significantly altered as a consequence.

Adam Fishman 12Ash

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