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How the Scottish National Party risks turning Caledonia into Catalonia

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THE INDEPENDENCE marches which sometimes wind via gray Scottish cities are vibrant affairs. The blue and white of the Saltire jostle with the crimson and yellow of the Estelada, the banner of Catalonia’s separatist motion.

The battle for Catalan independence from Spain has been an inspiration not only for Scotland’s nationalists: it additionally influenced David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister who permitted after which received the referendum on independence in 2014. If he had not, he wrote in his memoirs, the query of Scotland’s future would have festered and the case for independence grown stronger. Catalonia held an unlawful referendum in 2017, which was adopted by arrests and riots. It was, wrote Mr Cameron, a lesson in the perils of mishandling separatists.

These boasts don’t look so intelligent at present. Current polls present Scots favouring independence—the first time {that a} sustained lead for independence has been seen, says Sir John Curtice, a political scientist at the College of Strathclyde. One issue, he says, is Brexit, which has pushed Remainers into the fingers of Nationalists. Whereas Brexit has degraded the British authorities’s status for competence and sound judgment, managing coronavirus has constructed up the Scottish authorities’s (see article). Mr Johnson is unpopular. The Scottish National Party is projected to take 55% of the vote in the elections to the Scottish Parliament in Might 2021, in accordance with current polls, which might give Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, an outright majority, and permit her to demand a second referendum on independence.

The Conservative Party is spooked. Boris Johnson made a flying go to to Orkney on July 23rd, the place he stated the “sheer would possibly of our union” had seen Scotland via coronavirus. On July 30th Jackson Carlaw, chief of the Scottish Conservatives, was ousted after solely six months in the job. He admitted that he was less than the job of defending the union. His alternative, Douglas Ross, is the pugilistic MP for Moray and a part-time soccer referee.

Mr Cameron thought the finest technique to include separatism was an “agenda of respect” in direction of the Edinburgh administration. Mr Johnson, in distinction, desires to reassert Whitehall’s position in governing Scotland, and splash some Treasury money. “There shall be rather less about pleasing the devolved administration and extra about pleasing the folks,” says an official.

However even when Ms Sturgeon triumphs, Scotland won’t be on a fast trajectory to independence. As a substitute, there shall be an extended stalemate between London and Edinburgh. The Nationalists might have assist, however, like the Catalan separatists, they lack a highway map to an independence referendum that’s recognised by the British authorities and triggers exit negotiations.

The federal government will not be constitutionally obliged to allow the Scottish Parliament to organise a referendum. In the 2019 common election, Mr Johnson promised to “return to sender” any request for a referendum. He has fortunately ignored the Scottish Parliament on Brexit. And the Scottish Conservatives have completed properly out of the division of the nation over independence. They displaced Labour as the second occasion by scooping up the votes of scunnered unionists with the mantra “No to Indyref2”. “Polarisation fits the poles,” says James Mitchell, a professor of public coverage at Edinburgh College. “You’ll be able to enchantment to that substratum of the citizens, even when it’s a minority.”

Mr Johnson’s refusal would additionally threaten the unity of the ultra-disciplined SNP. Ms Sturgeon says the Westminster authorities’s consent and worldwide recognition are important if a referendum is to result in independence. Catalonia’s unlawful poll now serves as a warning, not an inspiration. Spain dismissed the end result and public assist has slipped. “The Russians may be cool with it however that’s not what we’re aiming for,” says a Sturgeon supporter.

If Mr Johnson received’t give manner, there shall be strain on her to provide a Plan B for independence. A bunch of activists is asking Scotland’s highest courtroom to rule that the Westminster Parliament’s consent for a referendum is pointless. Pete Wishart, an SNP lawmaker, says the European Union ought to be requested to recognise a ballot if Mr Johnson doesn’t. Some even say Ms Sturgeon may merely declare independence after an election. Tory strategists prefer it when hotheads hold forth on this manner as a result of it frightens the center courses.

Then there’s Labour. Ms Sturgeon’s finest hope of breaking the stalemate is a take care of Labour in 2024, through which she helps a minority Labour administration in trade for a referendum. However Sir Keir Starmer, the occasion’s new chief, says he opposes such an settlement. Mr Johnson advised voters in 2019’s common election {that a} vote for Labour is a vote to interrupt up Britain, and Mr Starmer will need to keep away from that taking place subsequent time spherical.

Either side assume they will win a warfare of attrition. Mr Ross says voters are exhausted by constitutional wrangling and wish their faculties and hospitals fastened. The nationalists hope that obstinacy on Mr Johnson’s half will gasoline their trigger.

The worth of stalemate is deteriorating governance. Scotland is caught in a rolling referendum marketing campaign, which inspires freebies akin to the abolition of prescription prices, and discourages unpopular however needed reforms. “Any tough situation which might be not less than instantly unpopular however may be the proper factor to do is pushed apart,” says Professor Mitchell. And the devolution settlement lacks buddies. The SNP thinks it no substitute for statehood, whereas rising numbers of Tories assume sending ever-more powers to Edinburgh has did not cease separatism. “They fed the crocodile,” says one.

Devolution accommodates two elementary concepts about the structure: one which says that sovereignty lies with the Scottish folks, and one other which says it lies with the Westminster Parliament that legislated for devolution. They needn’t conflict. But when the SNP triumphs in the Scottish election subsequent Might, the query of whether or not Scotland can vote a second time will drive them into battle. Mr Johnson and Ms Sturgeon will each declare mandates. Mr Cameron won’t have saved Scotland from Catalonia’s limbo.

This text appeared in the Britain part of the print version below the headline “Is Caledonia Catalonia?”

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