Secession from Great Britain: Will Scotland create Catalan conditions?

Scotland strengthens the ruling SNP in the general election. The party is campaigning for a second independence referendum. But that is not a sure-fire success and could also bring the EU into trouble, says Great Britain expert Stefan Schieren in the podcast “Wieder Was Learn”.

A second independence referendum “is the will of the country”. Nicola Sturgeon has that, the Scottish Prime Minister said last weekend. The ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) received 40.3 percent of the vote in the general election, making it still the strongest political force in Scotland. This gives the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon a tailwind on their way to their great goal, Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. There will be a second referendum on this in the coming legislative period.

But as clear as the victory for the SNP was, Scotland is still deeply divided after this parliamentary election. The election result is similar to the result of 2016. “The majority ratios for the referendum in 2014 have not really changed much. You can see that in the constituencies 51 percent of the votes were cast for parties that oppose the independence referendum, i.e. for the Union And in the regions it was 49 percent who voted for parties that were against a referendum “, analyzes Great Britain expert Stefan Schieren, Professor of Political Science at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, in the ntv podcast “Learned again”.

Second referendum only after the pandemic

After this election, the SNP will have 64 seats in parliament, one more than last time. Nevertheless, the left-wing nationalist party narrowly missed the absolute majority again, 65 seats would have been required for this. It is unclear whether Sturgeon will lead a minority government again or whether the SNP will enter into an alliance with the SGP, the Scottish Green Party. The Greens will now have eight seats in Parliament in Edinburgh. Like the SNP, you advocate Scotland’s independence. “Both parties had announced in advance that they would bring legislation on the way to hold a second independence referendum.” After this election, Schieren therefore “has no doubts” that the way for such a law is free.

Sturgeon announced that Scotland would not allow Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reject it. The conservative Tories should not block a second referendum. Otherwise, they would stand up against the Scottish people and demonstrate that the UK is not an equal partnership or a voluntary alliance of nations. “That alone would be a strong argument for Scotland to become an independent country,” said Sturgeon.

The head of government, who has been in office for seven years, also made it clear in her speech that the referendum will not be head over heels. First of all, the corona crisis must be overcome and the economy restarted. Only when that is done will the Scots vote on independence for the second time since 2014. A corresponding law will probably be introduced into the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of next year at the earliest.

“No decision by Boris Johnson”

“Constitutionally, it should be the case that the legal basis for such a referendum cannot be made by a parliamentary law in Scotland, but either by a government decision on the basis of “Article 30” of the “Scotland Act” or through a parliamentary bill in Westminster, “explains Schieren.

If the British government in London has to agree, things will get complicated. “Boris Johnson has already announced that he will not give this approval because David Cameron made an agreement in 2012 with Alex Salmond, the Scottish head of government at the time, that the 2014 referendum will be the last for 30 years.”

Nicola Sturgeon has been Scotland’s First Minister since 2014.

(Photo: picture alliance / dpa / AP)

The position of the Scottish Government is very different on these issues. On the one hand, Sturgeon says that Parliament in Edinburgh alone can determine when a referendum is held. This is “not a decision by Boris Johnson or any politician in Westminster”. The Scottish nationalists also argue against Johnson’s position that such a referendum should only be held once per generation. Because Brexit has fundamentally changed the situation. Almost two thirds of Scots rejected the UK’s exit from the EU in the 2016 vote. That justifies a new referendum, say the Scots, who want to stay in the EU.

A court may decide whether the government in London can prevent this vote or not, says Schieren. Before the Supreme Court, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, Boris Johnson would have an advantage. “The answer to this question will be: yes, the competence lies in London. And therefore a legal referendum cannot take place without the consent of London.” Nevertheless, Schieren draws attention to possible imponderables in the case law of the Supreme Court. On Brexit issues, the chief judges had “made one or the other decision that one could not have expected. In Great Britain” a very violent dispute over the legal and political basis of the constitution and parliamentary sovereignty has raged for 20 years. And which school the Supreme Court will then lean towards in its judgment cannot be calculated one hundred percent. “

“The second shot has to be right”

In the Scotland question, however, the first thing that matters is whether the conservative Tories around Johnson insist on their position. If the British government complains, the Supreme Court should rule for them, but Scotland will hardly accept that. Then Catalan conditions could arise. In the Spanish region, the regional government there had a referendum held in Madrid in 2017 without the consent of the Spanish central government. As a result, leading Catalan separatists were arrested for rebellion and the Catalan regional government was ousted.

“If they say that we don’t even want to give you the chance to express yourself politically here, then it may well be that things gain momentum, which then also put the Scottish government and the SNP under pressure, without approval from London then to carry out an illegal referendum according to constitutional criteria. “

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Schieren adds that “you really shouldn’t want such an intensification at all”. From a Scottish perspective, too, that would not be a smart move. A nation that has split off in an illegitimate way has “no chance” of being accepted into the European Union. “Because states like Belgium, France with Corsica, but also Spain especially with Catalonia, could not agree to this accession of a candidate, because they would then only give their own independence movements arguments for secession.”

For Schieren, a legal referendum is the only promising path to independence. Especially since the result of the parliamentary election appears clearer than it is. In any case, there is no sure majority in favor of a split among the population, emphasizes the Great Britain expert. And the Scottish nationalists cannot afford a “no” like in the 2014 referendum, when only 45 percent voted in favor of the split. Then the dream of independence would be over. “The second shot has to be right. You can’t ask the people until the result suits you,” Schieren makes clear. The Scottish government will therefore wait for a favorable time, the expert predicts in the podcast.

Is Britain falling apart?

But with this parliamentary election, the dream is at least a small step closer. And one day Northern Ireland could follow suit. There, for the first time, the pro-Irish parties won more seats than the pro-British in the 2019 general election. Because the nationalist Catholics also have a higher birth rate, the majority situation continues to shift. “So it is anything but unlikely that there will be a split. And then we would actually have a rump Great Britain from England and Wales, that would be the end. But if I had to make a bet, I would receive it the Union bet “, Schieren said.

For the UK government and Prime Minister Johnson, the next few years will be nothing less than preserving the UK. If Scotland goes off the leash, Northern Ireland could be strengthened and Great Britain could become Little England.