Boris Johnson calls for UK talks after Scottish nationalists win
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday invited the leaders of the U.K.’s devolved nations for crisis talks on the union after Scotland’s pro-independence party won its fourth straight parliamentary election.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, said the election results proved that a second independence vote for Scotland was “the will of the country” and that any London politician who stood in the way would be “picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people.”
The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with devolved governments in the latter three.
Johnson congratulated Sturgeon on her re-election, but said to the leaders of the devolved governments that the U.K. was “best served when we work together.” The letter invited the leaders to a summit to “discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them.”
Final results of Thursday’s local elections showed that the SNP won 64 of the 129 seats in the Edinburgh-based Scottish Parliament. Although it fell one seat short of securing an overall majority, the parliament still had a pro-independence majority with the help of eight members of the Scottish Greens.
Sturgeon said her immediate priority would be steering Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic. But she said an independence referendum was “now a matter of fundamental democratic principle.”
Johnson has the ultimate authority whether or not to permit another referendum on Scotland gaining independence. He wrote in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph that another referendum on Scotland would be “irresponsible and reckless” as Britain emerges from the pandemic. He has consistently argued that the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum where 55% of Scottish voters favored remaining part of the U.K.
Proponents of another vote say the situation has changed fundamentally because of the U.K's Brexit divorce from the European Union, with Scotland taken out of the EU against its will. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 52% of U.K. voters backed leaving the EU but 62% of Scots voted to remain.
When asked about the prospect of Johnson agreeing to a second Scottish referendum, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said Sunday “it’s not an issue for the moment” and that the national priority is on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we get sucked into a conversation about referenda and constitutions then we are diverting attention from the issues that are most important to the people in Scotland and across the United Kingdom,” Gove told Sky News.
“Instead of concentrating on the things that divide, let’s concentrate on the things that unite," he added.
The Scotland results have been the main focus of Thursday's array of local elections across Britain. In Wales, the opposition Labour Party did better than expected, extending its 22 years at the helm of the Welsh government despite falling one seat short of a majority.
Labour's support also held up in some big cities. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan handily won a second term. Other winning Labour mayoral candidates included Steve Rotherham in the Liverpool City Region, Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Dan Norris in the West of England region, which includes Bristol.