The limits of science

Scotland in the Sunday view for Scottish independence: –

“How the decline of the British Empire in the distance to the Scottish independence referendum could point a way forward”

Historical precedents from the fall of the British Empire may indicate a more pragmatic approach by the British government to calls for an independence referendum, it has been suggested.

By Scott Macnab
Saturday, December 5, 2020, 10:26 p.m.

The pressure on Boris Johnson to come to the negotiating table is likely to increase if the SNP wins a majority of the seats and the referendum in the Scottish Parliament elections next May, as most polls suggest, according to political experts.

However, five months ahead of Election Day, there are also warnings that Nicola Sturgeon’s dominant position in Scottish public opinion could quickly change during an election campaign as opposition parties receive more attention.

In the last poll last week, the SNP set 55% of voting intentions for next May if undecided voters are removed – enough to give Ms. Sturgeon a comfortable majority next year. The First Minister’s insistence that she will use this as a mandate for a second referendum on independence will put pressure on Boris Johnson to re-run the 2014 vote on leaving the UK, said Dr. Heinz Brandenburg, lecturer at the School of Government & Public Policy at Strathclyde University.

“If there is an SNP majority and the Greens are likely to win more seats through the list vote, that could be a pretty large majority for independent parties,” he said.

“I think that puts pressure on Johnson to negotiate some avenues for a referendum.

“He doesn’t have a choice for four years, so he doesn’t really have to do anything, but the pressure will increase.

“If there is a majority for a party, that will be treated as a mandate for what they have set out. It will be very difficult to say that a referendum is not what the people of Scotland want. “

And the approach with former colonial nations of the British Empire that secured independence in the 1960s, including much of Africa, could, according to Dr. Elliot Bulmer, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Dundee, suggest a more pragmatic approach.

“Traditionally, in most cases where countries have sought independence from Britain, which many countries have done, a majority in the legislature has been sufficient for the UK government to recognize this as a political mandate and then start negotiations for independence,” he said.

“Especially where the independence parties have expressly emphasized this – and have expressly tried to use the election to obtain a mandate for independence.”

Consistent polls this year suggest that the majority of Scots now support independence.

However, power over the constitution remains “reserved” to Westminster in Great Britain, and most experts believe that Boris Johnson would have to agree to a transfer of power through a so-called Section 30 regulation in order for the 2014 vote to be repeated. However, this has never been examined in court, and Ms. Sturgeon has not ruled out the prospect of legal challenge if the Tory leader refuses to vote in a referendum – even with another SNP majority next year.

Professor Ailsa Henderson, an expert on voting and elections at the University of Edinburgh, said the prospect that the SNP would win over 50% of the popular vote in next year’s elections – unprecedented in the short history of decentralization so far – would Improve the case for a referendum.

“The argument would be that democratic events are important and if you get more than 50% on a democratic event that is important,” she added.

“Just as the referendum on Brexit was not legally binding, it was seen as politically binding.

“Nicola Sturgeon could also claim that she has this politically binding mandate from winning a majority.

“And that would probably be easier for them to make that claim if they got more than 50% of the vote instead of just 50% of the seats.

The First Minister’s dominance in the air waves during the Covid pandemic contributed to the SNP’s election success. Discord in the opposition parties was also a factor in the Tories changing leader this year, despite the fact that the new man Douglas Ross is a MP and not in Holyrood. Union leader Richard Leonard was forced to endure public calls to quit a group of his own MSPs.

Dr. Malcolm Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Aberdeen University, said: “Boris Johnson and the UK government haven’t had a really big pandemic, if you want to put it that way.

“In public, the communication has not been great and if you look at the recent polls it suggests a very negative view of Boris Johnson regarding the pandemic.

“In contrast, Nicola Sturgeon’s numbers have developed very positively. If this continues, they’ll probably stay in the same area, I can’t see they’re getting more votes than they’re sitting right now.

“The other parties were not only in a very weak position in the last parliament, but since the SNP came to power in 2007. If the opposition had been a little stronger lately, the SNP would under no circumstances vote over 50% or more likely to win the majority. “

However, according to Professor Henderson, the polling momentum could change as the election campaign gains momentum.

“Pre-election fluctuations are not all that uncommon, and in the past you have had six-point and eleven-point fluctuations before the election,” she added.

“You would have to drop about ten points now to not get a majority, but such falls and climbs are not uncommon. So this is entirely possible due to precedent reasons.

“For them to fall, another party has to stand up, and this is where I believe the obstacle lies because there is no obvious contender for another party to withdraw part of the SNP’s support.”

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