Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson have decided they have two years to keep kicking the ball forward. That is the deadline, because the chief minister of Scotland has confirmed this Monday her willingness to hold a new independence referendum by the end of 2023. The two believe they have the law on their side – nationalist politics, to promote the consultation; the conservative politician, to reject it, and both have bet their political future on the same card. One on the front, the other on the back. Sturgeon won his electoral victory last May – to an absolute majority seat in the autonomous Parliament – with the promise that the Scots could decide on a future that Brexit took from them against their will. Johnson is ready to put his foot on the wall before going down in history as the prime minister under whose tenure the UK broke down.
Paradoxically, the pandemic has given the two political rivals a truce and excuse. Truce, because the health emergency allows Sturgeon to delay a matter more complicated to carry out than to promise. Excuse, because the fight against the virus allows Johnson to reduce urgency to a challenge to which he will sooner or later have to respond: a referendum was already held in 2014, and the precedent prevents rejecting the new request with a simple negative. “My way of doing politics and governing will always be, as far as possible, cooperation, not confrontation,” said the chief minister in her closing speech at the annual congress of the Scottish National Party (SNP, in its initials). in English). “It is in that spirit of cooperation that I am confident that the Scottish and British governments, as they did in 2014, will allow the people’s desire for democracy to be heard and respected,” said Sturgeon.
Because beyond the democratic logic that continually invokes nationalist politics – “No one has so far seriously questioned the right of the Scottish people to decide whether or not they want to be independent” – legal reality dictates that there be an agreement between Edinburgh and London, and ratified by the British Parliament (House of Commons and House of Lords). This was the case in 2014, when the conservative government of David Cameron allowed the approval of the so-called Section 30 of the Scottish Law of 1998. Basically, secondary legislation that transmits, temporarily or permanently, powers to the autonomous Parliament. In that case, the ability to call a consultation was transferred, and only for one occasion. The Scots rejected independence with 55% to 45%.
“The Scottish people have already made it clear that what they want at the moment is for the UK Government and all autonomous governments to work together to defeat the pandemic, and that is our priority,” a Downing Street spokesperson replied before even Sturgeon concluding his speech to members of the SNP.
Scottish nationalists agreed this summer, for the first time in history, to accommodate another formation within the Home Rule Government. Two members of the Green Party occupy respective ministerial portfolios. Both formations closed a government pact around the central axis of the celebration, before the end of the legislature, of a new independence referendum. The Greens defend the consultation almost with more conviction than the SPN itself, and in previous legislatures they had already supported nationalist executives with a parliamentary minority from outside.
Brexit -which was rejected in 2016 by more than 60% of Scots-, and Johnson’s erratic management of the pandemic, has made the will for independence has increased, to the point of having exceeded 50% in various polls over the past two years. Many citizens remember that the threat of staying outside the EU was precisely one of the main arguments that convinced them in 2014 to say no to the independence adventure.
Sturgeon has used a new argument in his speech to denounce the Brexit trap: [como consecuencia de la salida de la UE], they will assure us that we cannot afford to be independent; and by cutting off our trade with the EU, they will tell us that we depend too much on the rest of the UK ”, warned nationalist politics.
The SNP, however, has played during all this time with the double idea that the referendum will be legal – although many already predict, from the clues launched by the autonomous government, that the issue will end up being settled in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom -, and that Brussels will not put any obstacles in the way of Scotland’s re-entry into the EU. “Democracy will prevail”, and “independence works” (“independence works”) have been the two key phrases of a speech that sought to fix in the minds of the Scots a definitive political expectation: they will be able to vote again whether or not they want to be independent before the end of the legislature.