Why Scottish Independence and SNP power in Westminster could be intertwined.

The support for a second Scottish Independence referendum has gathered a lot of pace recently, accellerated by the current affairs in Westminster. This has led to an ugly fight now being looked at by lawyers and justices in the UK’s highest court. However the fate of Scotland may not solely rest on the judgement of the court as to whether an advisory or legally binding referendum result has a legal standing in Parliament. The next General Election (be it January 2025 of sooner if called early) could make a decisive plot twist to a contentious debate.

I am writing this from a standpoint of an Englishman with Scottish Heritage living in England. Overall, I am on the fence over whether I believe Scotland should become Independent from the United Kingdom. However I feel a stronger connection to my Scottish roots than to my English roots and on a personal level I am curious as to what an Independent Scotland would look like, in a “Why not? Go for it” way.

Scottish Independence would mean the evolution of Scotland from a Devolved Nation of the United Kingdom to a fully fledged Independent Sovereign State in its own right as recognized by the United Nations.

Public opinion north of the border is shifting ever towards establishing Scotland as an independent nation. Whilst the first Independence Referendum in 2014 was close, the level of support behind the “Yes” campaign was not enough to force through any legislation to establish Scotland as a Sovereign Nation in it’s own right. However the political landscape has changed dramatically since then.

A large proportion of Scottish people want to see Scotland take a different political path to Westminster, which is fuelling the popularity of independence. [1] Also, the latest GERS figures show that whilst Scotland is heavily responsible for the UK overall defecit, its own deficit has reduced at a greater rate than the rest of the UK and that devolved authorities received over £32 Billion less than its taxpayers contributed to the public coffers. [2] Scotland shares the same hardships as non-Tory local authorities in England and Wales – having their hands tied in the face of trying to invest in their communities; all but forgotten by those in control in Westminster.

Thanks to the (lack of) handling of Brexit negotiations, the failures of decision making throughout the COVID pandemic, and the apparent waterfall of Government scandals has left trust in No 10 at an all time low. Previously when a Government has shown a huge level of incompetency the opposition have normally faced an open goal with a simple task of winning the next election on the gravy train. Yet somehow, a Labour party in the midst of an identity and financial crisis, look extremely capable of missing. Not to mention that the Liberal Democrats are almost universally considered missing in action as the Third Wheel as there Centrist stance is considered far too pandering to actually make a change from regimes leaning too far to the left or right. So Where do the SNP lie in all of this?

The Scottish National Party have, since 2010, been the largest political party contesting all Scottish seats in Westminster, and are also in their fourth consecutive term in office in Scotland’s Devolved Parliament in Holyrood. They are the biggest driving force of an Independent Scotland, a stance supported by the Greens. [3]

On its early formation the SNP were originally a very right-wing Nationalist political party, very similar in line to the BNP but with an additional agenda of Scottish Independence. However the reality was that most Scottish right-wingers were also Unionists and such the party was always going to lose out to the Scottish Conservatives. Most Westminster and Holyrood seats prior to 2010 were held by Labour. However, for some reason the SNP decided an identity change would be appropriate, positioning themselves more centre-left, allying closer to Liberal and Socialist policies. Slowly but surely the SNP began gaining voters and seats, mostly from the Labour and Lib Dem strongholds before gaining power of Scotland’s devolved Government in Holyrood. They also hold a 44 seats in Westminster [4] out of Scotland’s 59 in total. This is not as high as their 2015 result of 56, [5] it is still significantly more than the 2010 campaign which saw the approval of the first referendum.

Labour currently occupy just one seat in a region it previously considered a stronghold. The Tories hold 6, whilst the Lib Dems have 4. With those numbers, losing the 59 Westminster seats to Independence would likely hit the Conservatives harder than Labour, despite Scotland traditionally being a Red nation rather than Blue when it comes to politics.

So what is a likely Election Outcome in Winter 2024/2025? In reality, a Hung Parliament, probably with labour holding the most seats (barely) is likely the best option right now. A Labour Majority would be a dangerous prospect as the Party is missing in action and facing internal crisis, including debt and membership losses [6]. For too long have both Labour and the Conservatives had it easy running a near-effective two-horse race (2010 excluded) which has lead to a slow decline in the standard of living in the UK for the last 40 plus years. Running a minority Government will be incredibly difficult to implement policies, as you will guarantee greater opposition for anything. So in order to form a Majority Government, Labour will need to enter a Coalition with either the Liberal Democrats, or with the SNP.

The first prospect, with a Lib Dem coalition, is highly unlikely. Considering how the party bent over backwards to appease the Tories in an attempt to grab the shadow of power, it would be a highly unpolular move amongst both parties, regardless of the fact there are likely to be a number of policy clashes between them.

The second prospect is where things get interesting. The reality is, the SNP both socially and economically have very similar policies and ideologies to the Labour Party that would be beneficial to the whole of the UK. However, you can guarantee that should the current IndyRef2 move going through the Courts fail, that the legal permission to break up the union would be a non-negotiable term of any agreement to share power in Westminster. Many in Labour would be reluctant to partake in such a coalition however it may be necessary in order to ease the problems currently facing the UK and its citizens. It could prove a risky move for Westminster, as it completely reshapes the playing field where electoral result are confirmed.

If such a coalition were to be agreed, what is likely to happen? It is likely to mean that any referendum (assuming the planned 2023 advisory referendum cannot take place) will have a legally binding result and would take within around 12 to 18 months of the beginning of the Coalition, around spring/summer 2026. If the voting result swings towards Independence, there is likely to be an agreement that Scotland will officially leave ahead of the following General Election in 2029/2030 when the UK Government is officially dissolved . This would, in theory, give Labour a full term in power with coalition, yet give Holyrood enough time to set its own affairs in order to officially become an Independent Sovereign State. How SNP MPs in Westminster act following approval for Independence would be an unknown situation, however for the public’s sake on both sides of the border the coalition needs to work in order to deliver the change Britain needs to ease the cost-of-living crisis. One hopes their passion for their constituents will continue to the end, as the SNP MPs have been some of the most vocal in holding the current and recent Governments to account for any of their failings.

The Union and the Devolved Parliaments form one of the most complex governing authorities in the world. The formation of the Union between the British and Irish Nations centuries ago came when the world view was very different. And for most of that time, Westminster was the only National Authority. Whilst Devolution (introduced in 1998) gives the three smaller nations greater internal political control, there are ways in which it may no longer be fit for purpose. For instance, all international affairs are dealt with at Westminster, where Holyrood, Stormont (NI) and Synedd (Wales) have no input despite being potentially affected by those decisions. Yes, those nations have seats in Westminster but they still take up a minority of constituencies overall. The decision by different authorities also leads to inconsistencies in minor legal rules. From personal experience, I used to work in Catering, one particular and specific rule I remember makes a good example. In England and Wales, when measuring food temperatures during cooking, chicken, pork and liquefied foods had to reach an internal temperature on 65 degrees for 2 minutes, or 73 degrees for 30 seconds. In Scotland, that ruling is 82 degrees for 30 seconds. This is a standard practice that should be carried out in all food establishments. There are many small rules and regulations which differ across borders in all forms of life, and that can lead to difficulties or pitfalls where people may unknowingly or unwittingly break minor laws when visiting other Home Nations. Scotland, as the most powerful Devolved Parliament, has more of its own unique laws than the other Nations.

By all admissions, the regime at Holyrood is not without its own problems. The fact that two sitting MSPs are currently registered as Independent representetives despite meing members of the SNP, shows that like all authorities around the world, Scotland is not 100% squeaky clean when it comes to scandal and conduct. The last MSP and General Elections saw fewer votes and seats than previous despite still holding majorities. The GERS report shows Scotland still has some work to do on its financial health but all is not doom and gloom. Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire from journalists and opposition politicians over some of her decision making, however she is still proving a popular leader amongst the Scottish people.

In spite of political uncertanties, one thing remains: the hunger amongst the Scots to become an independent nation. A desire that is no longer born out of Ultra-Nationalism, but one born from strength and unity. Scotland’s future is not set in stone, but the picture could become much clearer in the next three years. Whatever happens, I hope my spiritual home flourishes as it deserves.

[1] https://www.thenational.scot/news/20758074.scottish-independence-new-poll-reveals-key-arguments-yes-camp/

[2] https://www.thenational.scot/news/20740257.gers-figures-ahead-2023-indyref-may-boost-yes-ifs-says/

[3] https://www.parliament.scot/msps/elections

[4] https://members.parliament.uk/parties/Commons

[5] https://ballotbox.scot/uk-parliament

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/aug/17/labour-48m-in-deficit-after-losing-91000-members

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