Clear Mandate for Another Scottish Independence Vote: Experts

May 12, 2021 Updated: May 12, 2021

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has a clear mandate to hold a second Scottish independence referendum, although it may not happen for a while, experts have said.

The argument over Scottish independence has intensified in recent days after the SNP’s landslide victory in the Holyrood election, which also produced the largest pro-independence majority in the Parliament in the history of devolution.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since stood by his preelection position, saying the focus should be on the recovery from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and not on another independence referendum.

“The SNP fell one seat short of having the overall majority that they desperately wanted during the campaign,” Paula Surridge, deputy director at the UK in a Changing Europe initiative and senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, told Epoch Times affiliate NTD on Monday.

“But there’s still a clear majority within the Scottish Parliament if you take the SNP and the Greens, who pick up quite a lot of seats on the list vote and who were also in favour of a second referendum,” she said.

“So there’s plenty of support there and a mandate there, if you like, in terms of the number of seats.”

Nicola Sturgeon
Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon reacts after being declared the winner of the Glasgow Southside seat at Glasgow counting centre in the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, on May 7, 2021. (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

Sir John Curtis, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, also said that the SNP has got a “much clearer mandate” of a second referendum than it did in 2016.

Apart from the fact that pro-independence MSPs now have a majority in Parliament, “the crucial difference from the last election in 2016, is what the parties have said in their manifestos,” Curtis told NTD on Monday.

In a Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, 55.30 percent of Scottish voters voted to remain in the United Kingdom, two years before the UK voted to leave the EU.

Curtis said that back in 2016, SNP said they didn’t want a second independence referendum unless there was to be a “material change of circumstance,” referring to Brexit.

“But this time around, they have simply said, ‘We want another referendum at some point during the course of the next five years, preferably the next two years.’ So they said something much more direct and much clearer,” Curtis said.

“In so far as politicians gaining their mandate from voters having voted for the manifesto that they stood on, the SNP have this time a much clearer mandate than the one that they had five years ago.”

SNP Not Ready

With regard to when a second Scottish independence referendum may happen, Surridge said it’s unclear.

She said it’s also unclear whether or not the UK government would support a call for a referendum, but “at the moment, people are saying, now isn’t the time,” because recovering from the pandemic is more urgent.

David Hume
The statue of philosopher David Hume on the Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle at the top down to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Feb. 21, 2012. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Curtis added that there is another reason why the SNP is not yet ready to have the referendum.

Asked about the chance of a “yes” vote, Curtis said it would be a 50–50 shot.

The opinion polls in recent weeks and over much of the last three years suggested that “support for yes and support for no to independence are roughly at 50–50 each,” Curtis said.

“And certainly, the message from the ballot box is consistent with that,” he added. “We are literally just over 50 percent of people voting for the unionist parties on the constituency balloting, just over 50 percent of people voting for the Nationalist Party on the list ballot. So it does look as though the country’s split down the middle.”

Therefore, Curtis said, neither side is “guaranteed to win” if a referendum is to happen at the moment.

Both sides “have a lot of work to do,” he said.

“Above all their arguments, a lot has changed since 2017,” he said, adding that both sides would have to “marshal their forces” to further the debate and “shift the dial of public opinion.”

“Both of them have a lot of work to do. And we’d really have to wait and see how the Scottish public reacts. If and when we get into a substantial debate about independence, of the kind that so far we’ve not really been having.”

Curtis said that both the impact of the pandemic and the nationalist side’s own interest “point to at least not a rush to try to hold a referendum, but rather something that is going to take place sometime down the track.”

Reporting by Jane Werrell of NTD, PA contributed to this report.