Scotland is heading to the polls on May 6, 2023, for a crucial election that could determine the future of the United Kingdom. The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) is hoping to win a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament and use that mandate to demand a second referendum on breaking away from the UK.
Why does Scotland want independence?
Scotland has a long and complex history with England, dating back to the Middle Ages. The two countries were united under one crown in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. In 1707, the Acts of Union formally merged the two kingdoms into Great Britain.
However, many Scots have always felt a distinct cultural and national identity, and some have resented being ruled by London. The SNP was founded in 1934 to campaign for Scottish self-government, and in 1997, Scotland voted to establish a devolved parliament with limited powers within the UK.
The SNP has been the dominant party in Scottish politics since 2007, and in 2014, it held a referendum on independence. The result was 55% to 45% in favor of staying in the UK, but the SNP argued that the situation changed after the Brexit vote in 2016, when Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, while England and Wales voted to leave.
How likely is a second referendum?
The SNP claims that it has a democratic right to hold another referendum if it wins a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, which has 129 members. The party currently holds 61 seats, and most polls suggest that it will gain more in the upcoming election.
However, the UK government has repeatedly rejected the idea of a second referendum, saying that the 2014 vote was a “once-in-a-generation” event and that Scotland should respect the outcome. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he will not grant the legal permission that is required for a binding referendum, and that he will focus on recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic instead.
The SNP has said that it will pursue all legal and democratic means to achieve its goal, and that it will not accept a veto from Westminster. The party has also hinted that it might hold a consultative referendum without the UK’s consent, or seek international recognition for its cause.
What are the arguments for and against independence?
The supporters of independence say that Scotland would be better off as an independent country, with full control over its own affairs and resources. They argue that Scotland has different political and social values from the rest of the UK, and that it should be able to rejoin the EU as a member state.
The opponents of independence say that Scotland benefits from being part of the UK, with a shared history, culture and economy. They argue that leaving the UK would be risky and costly, and that it would create new barriers and uncertainties for trade, security and cooperation.
Both sides have also clashed over issues such as currency, borders, defense, public spending and oil revenues. The economic impact of Brexit and Covid-19 has added more complexity and uncertainty to the debate.
What are the implications for the UK and beyond?
The outcome of the Scottish election could have significant consequences for the future of the UK, which is already facing challenges from Brexit, Covid-19 and regional inequalities. If Scotland leaves the UK, it would end more than three centuries of political union and reduce the size and influence of Britain on the world stage.
It could also trigger a domino effect for other parts of the UK, such as Northern Ireland and Wales, which have their own devolved administrations and nationalist movements. Northern Ireland in particular has seen renewed tensions over its post-Brexit status and its relationship with both Britain and Ireland.
Moreover, a Scottish independence bid could inspire other separatist movements across Europe and beyond, such as Catalonia in Spain, Flanders in Belgium or Quebec in Canada. It could also pose challenges for the EU, which would have to decide whether to admit Scotland as a new member or not.