It is not an ordinary general election coming up in Scotland. The result gives an impression of whether the Scots want to be independent – or not. Ultimately, as with Brexit, it is probably the emotions that decide.
No, the Sark does not look like a sublime border river. Rather lazily, it meanders through the green fields, vehicles rush over a small, stone bridge without stopping. And yet there is a border here, invisible and inconspicuous – it separates Scotland from England. But if many people want to go north of the Sark, this invisible border will soon become a very visible border.
They are people like Angus Robertson or Tanja Bueltmann. They want to get out of the UK, away from London with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit. Back to the EU – back to the future, that’s how they see it.
But we shall speak of them later. Because near this border is now Ami and says: “That’s rubbish.”
You have to go back a bit. The Scots will not vote on independence this Thursday (May 6), but will elect a new regional parliament. But the result is actually a yardstick, a kind of pre-referendum: Do the Scots really want to get out of the United Kingdom? The Scottish National Party (SNP) of Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon is in favor. It is certain that they will win the election, as is a pro-independence majority together with the Greens.
But the most important thing is how many seats the SNP gets. Is it enough for an absolute majority? Only then will Boris Johnson find it difficult, according to experts, to refuse a second independence referendum. And that’s why Ami, who lives with her husband and three children in England, but works in the Scottish town of Gretna Green just across the border, thinks about it before choosing. “Why should we tear this apart?” She asks. “They can’t be separated from each other”, the late twenties is convinced.
Nicola Sturgeon: It is certain that the SNP will win the regional election. But the result is important for the success of the independence movement. (Source: Russell Cheyne / Reuters)
Independence could come at an immense cost
The economic ties between Scotland and the rest of the Kingdom are huge, trade is many times that of Scotland’s trade with the EU. Scientists at the London School of Economics have calculated that independence for Scotland is up to three times more expensive than the cost of Brexit, and it would cost each resident up to £ 2,800. This even applies in the event that Scotland – as targeted by SNP boss Sturgeon – rejoins the EU.
It is above all this economic problem that the Scottish offshoot of Johnson’s Conservative Party always emphasizes. What will become of trade between Scotland and its main market, England, what currency will Scotland have, especially without a central bank? “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the EU that the SNP has to answer,” said Murdo Fraser, Conservative finance spokesman.
The party could also play into the hands of a split in supporters of independence. Sturgeon’s predecessor as head of government and party leader, Alex Salmond, recently founded his own party: Alba, from the Scottish Gaelic word for “Scotland”. Salmond emphasizes that his goal is a “super majority” for independence. But due to the Scottish electoral system of direct and list mandates, which is similar to the German one, his new party could take away its old votes, even if it missed the leap into parliament. Yes, the founding of the Alba will benefit anti-independence opponents, says Fraser.
Union supporters easily in the lead
The race is completely open, as political scientist Peter Lynch says. Surveys recently showed a slight majority for the supporters of the Union after the proponents of a breakaway had been in front for months. The consequences of Brexit were not as bad as many feared, says Lynch. In addition, Great Britain has gained reputation for the success of the corona vaccination campaign. On the other hand, Lynch points to the great popularity of Prime Minister Sturgeon, who steered her country through the pandemic with clear leadership.
In direct comparison with Boris Johnson, Sturgeon would probably land a landslide victory. The SNP has already used Johnson’s likeness to advertise in the past. So it suits the conservatives that the prime minister is not involved in the election campaign in the north. “I think we weren’t too disappointed that he didn’t come,” says Fraser with a smile. But in the end he knows that in a debate like the one about independence, emotions count in the end – and that’s what the SNP relies on.
For a referendum, London has to play along
In Edinburgh, Angus Robertson stands in front of a supermarket distributing leaflets. In the important constituency of Edinburgh Central, the ex-journalist, who has a German mother, wants to take away the conservatives’ seats. “I am the pro-European, the international candidate, and my counterpart from the Tories is for Boris Johnson and the whole Brexit catastrophe,” he says in an interview with the dpa. It is time for the Scots to go their own way, because the British government does not care about the northern part of the country. “We are ruled by the Tories in London, who have not won a single election in this country, in Scotland, since 1955.”
The central problem, however: London has to play along for a new referendum. No referendum is possible without Johnson’s approval. And the prime minister has made it clear that he will not agree. The vote of 2014, when a narrow majority voted to remain in the kingdom, was a generational decision. The SNP does not want to accept that. She emphasizes that the starting point has changed with Brexit.
The argument: the British government acts hostile to democracy if the will of the people of Scotland is ignored. “Then London has a huge problem because what has been an independence challenge so far becomes a democratic challenge,” Robertson stressed. And he sees the circumstances on the side of the SNP. Because many foreigners living in Scotland are also allowed to vote.
Like Tanja Bueltmann. The German historian, meanwhile also a British citizen, is a staunch supporter of independence and a member of the SNP. Scotland is a completely different country, says Bueltmann. Social, environmentally conscious, sustainable, in many respects the opposite of a narrow-minded, nationalistic and sometimes anachronistic England under conservative leadership.
Angus Robertson: Almost three quarters of the young Scots are in favor of separating from London, while older people want to keep the Union. (Source: Russell Cheyne / Reuters)
Does time solve the problem?
“Participation in society is open to everyone who is at home here, regardless of where they come from,” says Bueltmann. They are not afraid of possible economic difficulties. “The ideal is more important than the practical problems,” she says. Otherwise, Scotland would have to permanently pursue a policy that it does not want. Bueltmann cites the Brexit referendum in 2014 as an example. At that time, almost two thirds of the people in Scotland voted to stay. 314 years after the unification of England and Scotland there is no longer a real union.
For people like Tanja Bueltmann or Angus Robertson it is clear that independence will come sooner or later. Demographics alone speak for this. Almost three quarters of the young Scots are in favor of separating from London, while older people want to keep the Union. “We’ll win,” says Robertson. Then he goes down the street handing out leaflets.