Local elections in the UK could further expose divisions


Protesters with Union flags face independence protesters gathering in George Square in Glasgow on May 1, 2021, ahead of the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections on May 6, 2021 – outside the UK.

ANDY BUCHANAN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – In recent years the United Kingdom has struggled to live up to its name, and tensions and old animosities have erupted between the four states that make up the kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and renewed threats that the union could fall apart.

Future votes in the region on May 6 could further expose those divisions, and Scotland’s parliamentary elections could even set the stage for a second independence referendum, even though public opinion on the debate is on the verge of a knife.

How Scottish National Party Nicole Sturgeon will fare in Thursday’s election can largely determine how easily she can spur public opinion and hold a new referendum. According to the latest polls for Sky News, the party is predicted to reach a narrow parliamentary majority in the election.

The same poll conducted by Opinium also found that support for the second Scottish independence referendum remains divided midway between 50-50, after excluding “don’t know,” from 51-49 in a previous Opinium poll. The poll took 1,015 Scottish voters between April 28 and May 3.

Analysts said the outcome to watch out for Thursday’s election would be whether the SNP, the most staunch proponent of independence, would need the support of the Greens in its candidacy for a second independence vote.

“They will remain in the government with a projected 60-70 seats in parliament with 129 seats (Scottish). The roadmap to look at is whether the SNP will get the 65 seats needed for the overall majority or will have to rely on the Greens to give an overall majority for a second referendum on independence, “Teneo Intelligence analysts noted on Tuesday.

“After the vote, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is likely to declare that ‘now is not the time’ for a second referendum, regardless of the Scottish election result. That way, Johnson will try to throw out the can by the end of this UK parliamentary term in late 2024.”

Sturgeon has rejected claims that she will hold a referendum on the independence of the “wild cat” if her party wins a majority in Thursday’s parliamentary vote. During a debate by Scottish leaders, Sturgeon said her goal was to advocate independence by persuasion rather than an unsanctioned plebiscite.

Johnson, meanwhile, said the SNP’s plans to hold a second referendum were “uninvited and unnecessary.”

Dissatisfaction elsewhere

Dissatisfaction and calls for independence are also heard in other parts of the UK.

It is likely that the trend towards independence intensified in the late 1990s when the process of devolution began. This meant that certain powers and responsibilities were transferred from the government in Westminster to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (Scotland and Wales have their own parliaments, while Northern Ireland has an Assembly).

On a practical level, decentralization has meant that much of the decision-making that takes place in different parts of the UK is made at that local level, although some policy areas, such as defense, immigration and foreign policy, remain in the hands of the country’s legislators. Westminster.

A man holds a sign as thousands of people take part in the first Wales independence march from City Hall to Hayes on May 11, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images news Getty Images

The leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, said in April that if the party won a majority in Thursday’s (or Sened) parliamentary elections, it would pledge to hold a referendum on Welsh independence for the next five years.

Although Plaid Cymru is expected to take third place in the election, Yes Cymru, an independence group, released a poll in late April suggesting support for independence was increasing.

Northern Ireland also remains a political chest for the UK, whose citizens are largely divided along religious and nationalist lines. Protestant voters are inclined to resolutely maintain a union with Great Britain, while Catholic voters traditionally support Republican parties and reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

Voting for Brexit in 2016 was a catalyst for further divisions in the UK Scotland and Northern Ireland mostly voted to stay in the EU, while the majority in Wales and England voted to leave. The complexity of Northern Ireland’s role in the post-Brexit trade agreement and perceptions that it was sacrificed during the negotiation process with the EU have left some experts wondering whether the push for reunification with the rest of Ireland could become stronger.

Philip Rycroft, a former permanent secretary in the Department for Exit from the EU, noted that the “complacent and non-strategic” approach to devolution spurred the effort for Scottish independence and left the union on the brink again.

“Westminster hasn’t really paid enough attention to what’s going on in Scotland over time, and you could discuss it, too, in Wales and Northern Ireland,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

The accusation is that Westminster and Whitehall had a “let go and forget” approach, and dealing with devolution did not enter the bloodstream of the UK system, despite the huge changes that followed with the devolution of the 1990s. does not support all of its components. “

Impact on sterling?

Strategists are considering the impact the election results could have, especially those from Scotland sterling, which could be closely monitored as election results emerge.

Not everyone is convinced yet that there will be sharp moves in the pound. ING economist for developed markets James Smith and chief strategist for EMEA FX and IR Petr Krpata remarked on Tuesday that “although the Scottish election could bring negative headlines about another Scottish independence referendum, we don’t think this should have too much negative impact on sterling. “

“This is because (a) the referendum could last for years, not months (even if the independence parties win a majority); (b) as we noted in the Brexit referendum, the risk premium began to be built into just six pounds months before the event and (c) the first Scottish referendum in 2014 did not escalate into a material accumulation of the GBP risk premium. “

Scotland’s independence is not even a fictional conclusion. As with the last vote in 2014, which resulted in 44.7% of voters voting for independence and 55.3% voting against division, questionnaires about the economic viability of Scotland as an independent nation remain unanswered.

Philip Rycroft says these issues are equally highlighted and unresolved in the current debate.

“There is no doubt that an independent Scotland would face major economic challenges. The big excessive deficit, which was 8-9% before Covid, is much higher than the UK as a whole, and Brexit means there would be a whole bunch of really tough questions about how to act with a potential border with the rest of the UK if Scotland wants to join the EU. The big question is the currency – does it use the pound, does it create its own currency or ultimately go to the euro? “he noted.

“Ultimately, the independence debate is about self-government and a sense of identity, and the challenge for the British side of the debate is to convince enough people in Scotland to remain viable and the British and Scots have a long-term option for them.”


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