Another Scottish independence vote is a matter of "when, not if"

(Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

I bet many of you thought all of that Brexit drama was behind us, didn’t you? Not so fast, folks. Things aren’t looking quite so “united” in the United Kingdom these days. Even as they continue to battle some variants of the novel coronavirus, a much older battle is heating up again and that would be the battle for Scottish independence. Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, recently sent a message to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, telling him that another vote to determine whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom was on the way and it was only a matter of time. For his part, BoJo hasn’t been interested in arguing about this, preferring to urge everyone to work together to battle the pandemic. But Sturgeon is the leader of the party that basically defines itself as the champions of the independence movement so it’s a conversation that obviously will have to be had sooner or later. Also, the Scottish National Party has now won a majority (with some help from allies) in four Parliamentary elections in a row. (Associated Press)

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.” …

Sturgeon said her immediate priority would be steering Scotland through the pandemic. But she said an independence referendum was “now a matter of fundamental democratic principle,” and did not rule out legislation paving the way for a vote at the start of next year.

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.

Johnson’s standard line when this subject has come up in the past is to say that there was already a referendum in 2014 and the independence movement lost in a 55-45 vote. Sturgeon counters that he may be right about that, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Brexit happened, and while a slim 52% majority of the entire UK voted to leave the EU, a rather solid 62% of Scots voted with the Remain movement.

This gives Sturgeon another card to play that her party didn’t have seven years ago. She’s making the pitch that Scotland was removed from the EU against its will. They’re not just fighting to leave the UK. They’re fighting to return to Europe. That could make for a compelling argument the next time around.

In theory, BoJo has the final say in whether or not there will be another referendum, and the need to get the pandemic under control likely gives him some leverage in telling Sturgeon’s party “not now” instead of flatly saying no or never. But if a real majority of the Scots are backing Sturgeon, Johnson can only push this issue so far before he winds up with another figurative “Braveheart” moment on his hands.

As far as the pandemic goes, while England is extending restrictions and lockdowns further, Sturgeon is heading in the other direction. She just announced that she will be loosening or lifting some restrictions ahead of schedule.

Mainland Scotland will move to level two restrictions – although it is “very likely” Moray will remain in level three after a surge in cases.

Most of the Scottish islands, except Arran, Bute, Cumbrae and Skye, will move to level one on the same date.

The changes, which will also allow pubs and restaurants to sell alcohol indoors, were confirmed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

If Sturgeon is working to lead Scotland out of the pandemic faster than Johnson is managing it for the entire UK, it could be a signal of bigger things to come. But at least for now, she doesn’t appear to be ready to rush things.

I get the feeling that most of the people in Great Britain are so sick of the entire Brexit fight that they really don’t want to saddle up for a replay at this point. But the Scots are still the Scots. If they really want to go down this road, I seriously doubt that Boris Johnson or any other Englishman can hold them off forever.