Stuck in Neutral

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Scotland’s first minister and leader of the ruling Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, wants to precipitate a political fight over Scottish independence from the rest of the United Kingdom – she thinks she and the country’s independence cause have been stuck in neutral. A dust-up over independence gives her a chance to revive her career and cause, argued Financial Times columnist Robert Shrimsley recently.

Others, however, see that Scotland as part of the UK is stuck without a future because of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Regardless, Sturgeon this week laid out her plan to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence in the fall of 2023, the BBC reported. She intends to proceed whether or not the British government in London grants its approval for the vote. British officials have already said they would not consider the vote legitimate. Meanwhile, she said she’ll ask the country’s high court whether Scotland has the power to call the vote without London’s approval, Al Jazeera noted.

As Vox recalled, Scottish voters rejected independence from the UK in 2014. But since then, the UK left the European Union despite the vast majority of Scottish voters rejecting Brexit. Additionally, last year, voters gave a majority in Scotland’s local parliament to Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, which supports independence.

Now, argued Sturgeon in a recent policy paper laying out the case for independence, Scots want a divorce from England, Wales and Northern Ireland because they say they can make a “wealthier, happier, and fairer” country without help from politicians like Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the embattled conservative whose disapproval rating stands at 65 percent, as Politico reported.

Polls now show that around 48 percent of Scottish voters support independence while 52 percent would reject it, according to the Washington Post. Both sides have yet to campaign seriously, however, meaning that the contest to sway a few percentage points’ worth of votes would likely be intense.

Why, then, is Sturgeon looking to start a political contest over independence that she might lose? The New Statesman says she is facing a combination of internal pressure from her political allies who want independence and the likelihood of a Labor Party government winning an election and replacing Johnson as prime minister. A Labor victory would conceivably take the wind out of the independence movement, as Labor would likely be more favorable to most Scottish voters than a Conservative Party leader like Johnson. That shift might hurt the Scottish National Party.

Party leaders, meanwhile, are working hard to make the case that independence is possible. Scottish National Party President Mike Russell recently argued that Scotland could follow the same rules that British and EU officials follow in Northern Ireland, the only place where Britain and the EU share a land border, the Herald reported. Those rules oversee how customs operate between the two jurisdictions. Johnson has said he wants to scrap the agreement.

Whether Scexit occurs will depend on Sturgeon – or her adversaries – making the more compelling case to voters who probably don’t care how or why they arrived at a new referendum.

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