Scotland's nationalist government set to be shy of majority
Scotland's governing Scottish National Party was poised Saturday to win its fourth straight parliamentary election, but the party's anticipated inability to secure a majority could complicate its ambition to hold another referendum on the country's independence from the UK.
With 68 constituencies counted, the SNP had won 57 of the 129 seats in the Edinburgh-based Scottish Parliament and was on clear course to extend its dominance of Scottish politics.
However, because Scotland allocates some seats by a form of proportional representation, the party looks set to fall just short of the 65 seats it would need to have a majority. Based on the latest results, the BBC forecast that the SNP would end up with 63 seats.
The party's leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, conceded as much late Saturday afternoon, saying it wasn't a big surprise given the electoral system in place in Scotland.
"I've always said a majority is a long-shot,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon said the immediate priority on her return to power would be steering Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic but that the legitimacy of an independence referendum remains, SNP majority or not. The Scottish Greens, who also back a referendum, were set to pick up parliament seats.
“It looks as if it is beyond any doubt that there will be a pro-independence majority in that Scottish Parliament, and by any normal standard of democracy that majority should have the commitments it made to the people of Scotland honored,” Sturgeon said.
In a September 2014 referendum, 55% of Scottish voters favored remaining part of the United Kingdom.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the Conservative Party, would have the ultimate authority whether or not to permit another referendum on Scotland gaining independence. So far, Johnson has refused to countenance another vote, setting up the possibility of renewed tensions between his government and Sturgeon’s devolved administration.
The prime minister wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper published Saturday that another referendum would be “irresponsible and reckless” in the “current context” as Britain emerges from the pandemic.
Sturgeon said it would be wrong for Johnson to stand in the way of a referendum and that the timing is a matter for the Scottish Parliament.
“I would say two things: Firstly you’re not picking a fight with the SNP, you’re picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people,” she said. “And secondly, you will not succeed.”
There's been growing talk that the whole issue may end up going to court, but Sturgeon said the “outrageous nature” of any attempt by the British government to thwart the democratic will of Scotland would only fuel the desire for independence.
“I couldn't think of a more powerful argument for independence than that one,” she said.
The Scotland results have been the main focus since an array of local and regional elections took place Thursday across Britain, where around 50 million voters were eligible to vote.
In Wales, the concluded vote count showed the Labour Party doing better than expected in the parliamentary election as it extended its 22 years in control of the Welsh government. The party retaining its grip on power after winning half of the seats, just one short of a majority. Mark Drakeford, who will remain as first minister, said the party will be “radical” and “ambitious” in government.
Ballots continue to be counted from local elections in England, which already have been particularly good for Johnson’s Conservative Party, notably its victory in a special election in the post-industrial town of Hartlepool for a parliamentary seat that the main opposition Labour Party had held since 1974.
The win extended the party’s grip on parts of England that had been Labour strongholds for decades, if not a century. Many seats that have flipped from red to blue voted heavily in 2016 for Britain’s departure from the European Union. The speedy rollout of coronavirus vaccines also appears to have given the Conservatives a boost even though the UK has recorded Europe's highest coronavirus-related death toll at 127,500.
For the Labour Party and its new leader, Keir Starmer, the Hartlepool result was a huge disappointment and has led to another bout of soul-searching in a party that in 2019 suffered its worst general election performance since 1935.
Starmer said he took full responsibility for the party’s defeat in Hartlepool, adding that he would soon be setting out a strategy of how it can reconnect with its traditional voters. He didn’t give further details.
Though Labour is clearly losing ground in the traditional heartlands, its support held up in many other parts of England, such as the big cities. The party won a series of mayoral elections, including Steve Rotherham in the Liverpool City Region and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester. And Dan Norris was elected as the mayor of the West of England region, which includes the city of Bristol.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, also a Labour member, is expected to win a second term.