It seems the Scottish National Party is planning to race Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein to be the first to gain independence from Boris Johnson’s UK.
The new majority party in NI has a plan to secede from the Union within the next five years, but the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon has proposed October 19, 2023 as the date for a referendum on Scottish independence.
Her party has published a Referendum Bill, to be debated by the Scottish Parliament – but this will not happen until the UK’s Supreme Court has ruled on whether the Scottish government has the power to hold a vote without UK government approval.
She has requested this approval, writing to Boris Johnson to request formal consent for the vote to be held. He has said the UK government will consider it, but its position that “now is not the time” for another referendum has not changed.
Sturgeon’s aim is to avoid legal challenges to her Referendum Bill when it comes to be debated in the Scottish Parliament; Supreme Court backing will make that possible.
So the plan is that – in the belief that Johnson’s government will refuse to back her request – it will still receive validation that it is lawful and constitutional from the Supreme Court and the Referendum Bill will be passed by the Scottish Parliament.
There is a back-up plan, which is for the SNP to fight the next UK-wide general election on a single issue: “should Scotland be an independent country?”
It is only eight years since the last referendum on Scottish independence, so one can understand why the UK government in Westminster is reluctant to tolerate another one.
In 2014, around 45 per cent of voters supported independence, with 55 per cent against. Current polling shows little change, with 48 per cent in favour and 52 per cent against.
This makes a new referendum a big gamble for the SNP. It may annoy voters into believing that the party is too focused on a single aim, to the detriment of a nation – the UK – that is trying to pick itself back up after the double-blow of Brexit and Covid-19.
Alternatively, the same phenomena may be the reasons for people to support the plan – as the current version of Brexit was Johnson’s brainchild and has been a disaster, while his policies on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic have been similarly ham-handed, resulting in many thousands more deaths than should have happened.
In any event, the Supreme Court may simply rule against the referendum, forcing Sturgeon’s party into its fall-back plan – but what if Johnson calls a general election early in order to wrong-foot her?
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, Sinn Fein’s leaders have a plan to get Northern Ireland out of the union at some point over the next five years – if they can get Unionist parties to stop throwing their toys out of the pram over their election loss and allow the Assembly at Stormont to sit again.
They will be watching what happens in Scotland very carefully, no doubt.
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