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  1. Election 2024
18 March 2015updated 07 Jun 2021 2:13pm

Following Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Wednesday, could Scotland really be heading for Indyref2?

By Stephen Bush

If Brexit goes ahead, the SNP will seek another referendum this side of the 2021 Scottish parliamentary elections, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

In a way, it’s old news. The SNP fought the 2016 Holyrood election pledging to hold another referendum in the event of “a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will”. Although they lost their overall majority, the Scottish Greens are also pro-independence, though their preferred method to trigger another referendum is through a citizens’ petition.

That Sturgeon is now planning to kick off preparations for another referendum with citizens’ assemblies on the issue makes it harder for opponents of another referendum to argue that it has no democratic legitimacy, as the plans meet the criteria set out in both parties’ manifestos, and together they have a majority of seats in the Scottish parliament.

But equally importantly, the power to hold a referendum is reserved, not devolved: only the British government can grant the right to hold a legally binding referendum. There is no prospect of that happening under the present Prime Minister.

Polls consistently show that a majority of Scottish voters don’t want the government in Edinburgh to hold another referendum but don’t think the government in London should turn down a request to do so. But in elections since 2015, voters have preferred to vote tactically to frustrate the ability of the government in Edinburgh to hold a fresh referendum, even while saying that they dislike the sight of Downing Street blocking it.

The great hope of the SNP’s opponents is that this dynamic will continue at the next general and devolved elections. But will it? It’s one thing to vote tactically when the polls show a landslide result in England and the only thing up for grabs in Scotland is whether or not the constitutional question is re-opened. Similarly, it’s one thing to vote for a Conservative opposition at Holyrood. It’s quite another when the outcome of the next general election is in doubt and a vote for Ruth Davidson might end up with a Tory government in Scotland, too. The dynamic of the 2016 and 2017 elections isn’t necessarily guaranteed to roll over to the next set of contests. 

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