Scotland facing key ‘crunch point’ to decide second independence vote – Sir John Curtice

Scottish independence: 'Confidence is very low' in Sturgeon

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On Thursday voters in Scotland will have the opportunity to amend the political makeup of the 32 councils that stretch from the Orkney Islands all the way to Glasgow. To date, most pollsters view the Scottish National Party (SNP) as dominating results once more with analysts keen to find out whether Labour can topple the Conservatives as the second biggest party north of the border.

When the SNP released its manifesto ahead of the local elections the party made reference again to its intention to push through a second independence vote from the UK.

Previously in 2014, a majority of the Scottish electorate voted to remain part of the UK, winning with 55.3 percent of the vote compared to the ‘leave’ campaign who secured 44.7 percent.

Since then opinion polls have fluctuated. For example, following the 2016 Brexit referendum and at points of the Covid pandemic surveys demonstrated record levels of support for independence.

Though this has declined somewhat according to more recent polls. A recent survey by BMG/The Herald, conducted in March 2022, showed a five percentage point gap in favour of Scotland rejecting independence – ‘remain’ won 49 percent compared to ‘leave’ with 43 percent.

Regardless, Ms Sturgeon said earlier this week she was “convinced” Scotland would choose independence from the UK if a second referendum took place.

Indeed, she has vowed to resign as party leader if Scotland were to vote once more for unification with Britain.

So, how likely is it that a second independence referendum will take place?

Sir John Curtice, a Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, told his belief is it’s a “good bet that at some point between now and the end of June we will get the first steps” towards a referendum being pushed through.

But he countered that while the political will for a referendum would exist in Holyrood the position of Westminster would be decided beyond Ms Sturgeon’s 2023 target.

He said: “The position of Westminster probably depends on the next General Election and I think probably the next General Election is really the crucial crunch point.

“It depends on the scenario. If the Tories win the next General Election yeah sure they will try and say no again.

“If Labour wins and it’s a minority Government then it depends on what’s the minority.

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“But if Labour are without an SNP support I think it’s going to be very difficult to avoid the referendum.

“On the other hand if it’s Labour with Liberal Democrat support then we may find that the rules at Westminster get changed in such a way that actually the SNP no longer have the bargaining power at Westminster.

“But then the Labour Party will still have to decide what they want to do. At the moment [Sir Keir] Starmer’s position is that we want to introduce loads of constitutional changes in Scotland but we ain’t going to have a referendum. I’m not sure that’s going to hold.”

Voting intention polls in Scotland suggest the SNP will emerge from the local elections as the largest party, including one conducted by Survation for the independent election analyst Ballot Box Scotland.

Their research predicts the party will receive 44 percent of all first preference votes in the council elections.

Should the SNP achieve anywhere near that mark it’s likely to be used as validation for a second referendum.

But with a majority Conservative administration still in charge of Westminster, at the latest until May 2024, analysts expect it to be virtually impossible for a vote to be awarded.

Dr Rod Dacombe, a Senior Lecturer in Politics from King’s College London, added that he believes the 2023 date of a second referendum is “very much an outside chance at the moment”.

He said: “Politically there is zero chance of Westminster getting behind another independence vote.

“Labour isn’t going to have it explicitly and for the Conservatives it would be politically hugely dangerous to do so.

“I think in some ways the strongest chance and this is still hovering just above zero would be another year of Boris Johnson in a weaker position as Prime Minister.

“But don’t forget of course that he still has a public majority. People write that Boris Johnson is on his last legs, but actually he’s, at least in terms of the numbers in Parliament, still pretty strong. So, I think that’s unlikely to happen.”

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