The Scottish Government advanced its latest pro-independence proposal on the eve of the opening, this Sunday, of a national assembly that will debate, through audiovisual connection, “alternative routes” to ensure the holding of a sovereignist referendum “legal” before or around 2023. The polls of opinion indicate a constant majority in favor of independence, but political obstacles and internal squabbles remain until the goal.
The independence newspaper ‘The National’ obtained the scoop on the plan of the Government of Nicola Sturgeon to convene the so-called IndyRef2 “after the pandemic.” The proposal confirms the intention to publish a legislative draft of the details of the consultation before the autonomic ones, scheduled for May. A new victory for the National Party (SNP), either with an absolute majority or backed by other pro-independence seats, would give the green light to the ratification of the bill.
The SNP is the favorite in all the polls. Some project a majority of up to thirteen seats in the Holyrood Parliament, similar to what the former chief minister, Alex Salmond, enjoyed before the 2014 referendum. Sturgeon is confident that the support of the electorate in the autonomies, after a campaign focused on the right of self-determination, force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow the example of his predecessor, David Cameron, and negotiate the terms of the sovereign exercise. In these circumstances, the conservative president would have “no moral or democratic justification! to disavow the plebiscite, as the Scottish adviser on constitutional matters, Michael Russell, explained to ‘The National’.
The SNP Government is cornered for its management of complaints against Alex Salmond
But Johnson has political motives for vetoing a vote that could lead to the breakup of Britain. The Scottish voter reiterates his preference for independence since mid-2020, with a current average in the polls of 54.2% against 45.8%. It almost replicates in reverse the 55.3% against 44.7% of the unionist triumph of six years ago. The prime minister considers the issue settled until the middle of the century and warns that it will not facilitate the transfer to Edinburgh of power to convene the indyRef2.
Challenge to Johnson
Despite this, the next SNP government would proceed with the preparations for the referendum and challenge Johnson to avoid it through political mediation or in the courts of Justice. Thus, Sturgeon’s plan transfers legal recourse to the central executive without revealing Edinburgh’s response if London ignores the challenge and promotes the unionist boycott of the consultation. However, the head of the Scottish Executive insists on her red lines regarding the legality of the process in order to “ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.”
Sturgeon tries to contain the impatience of the SNP’s militancy, parliamentarians and voters with his updated route plan. His management of the Covid-19 crisis has strengthened public trust in a sovereign government. At the same time, the hard ‘Brexit’ imposed by Johnson despite the favorable vote of the Scots to remain in the European Union – by a majority of 67% – fuels the desire to break ties with England. But the date of the referendum, initially promised in 2016, is moving away year after year and, with it, the objective of being part of the EU bloc is complicated.
The nationalist Executive faces another problem that risks its stability and the position of the chief minister. Salmond and Sturgeon awakened the Scots’ independence ambition in just over three decades of teamwork. But they broke up after allegations of sexual abuse against the former chief minister, which were leaked to the press in 2018.
The allegations of harassment and an alleged rape, dating back to when he was in charge of the Executive, were proven unfounded in a high-profile criminal trial in March 2019. Months before, Salmond had won a costly lawsuit against the Government of his former protégé for irregularities in the internal investigation of the scandal. A civil court concluded that it was conducted illegally and with “apparent damage”.
The aftermath of the case is tearing the party and the nationalist movement. Sturgeon, his office and his cabinet are the focus of two parliamentary investigations – by a committee and the ministerial conduct adviser – into open proceedings against the veteran who led Scottish politics for decades.
Open war within the SNP
Alex Salmond accuses his successor and political pupil, Nicola Sturgeon, of deceiving Parliament and breaking the ministerial code with a “false” narrative of the events surrounding the internal investigation of the scandal that brought him to justice. The circle of supporters of the former president also warns of a conspiracy to end his career and his reputation in which ministers and officials of the Sturgeon Government and high officials of the SNP would be involved. “I have faced charges of conspiring against Salmond and also conspiring with him. I reject both suggestions in the strongest possible terms, “said the Chief Minister. His spokesmen countered by pointing out that the now adversary spreads “false conspiracy theories” to divert attention from the complaints of various women.