Euro elections: Scotland draws dividing line over Brexit

The voters of Scotland have sent a message: England may have voted to leave the European Union, but we didn't.

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    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's SNP has taken half of Scotland's European Parliament seats [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]
    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's SNP has taken half of Scotland's European Parliament seats [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

    Glasgow, United Kingdom - While the Eurosceptic Brexit Party emerged as the clear winner in the United Kingdom's branch of the European elections, voters in Scotland sent a clear message of their own.

    As the Brexit Party, established only weeks ago by the ardent anti-European Union Nigel Farage, the former head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), swept the board in England and Wales, the pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP) topped the poll in nearly every constituency in Scotland.

    Amid a slump in support for Scottish Labour - once the party of dominance in Scotland - the SNP secured three of the six allocated Scottish seats in the EU-wide European vote.

    First minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, celebrated her pro-independence party's "historic" victory in the poll, and maintained that Scotland had "rejected Brexit again" as it increased its seat representation by one.

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    Indeed, building on its 62 percent "remain" vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum - which saw the majority "leave" votes in England and Wales propel the UK as a whole towards the European exit door - Scotland threw the bulk of its votes behind the EU-supporting SNP.

    "The elections in Scotland show that there is no such thing as a United Kingdom homogenous politics, which there hasn't been for some years now," Gerry Hassan, a Scottish political commentator, told Al Jazeera.

    Internationalist nationalists

    The SNP, which has been the party of government at the devolved Scottish Parliament since 2007, has retained its popularity, effectively seeing off Scottish Labour, which, for generations, ruled supreme over Scottish political life.

    "The SNP, 12 years into office, are still the leading party in Scotland and are still unchallengeable at the moment," said Hassan. "And this is due to a whole host of things, one of which is the absolute strategic weakness of their opponents."

    Across the UK, 73 European seats were up for grabs. While the SNP won half of Scotland's designated half-dozen seats with 38 percent of the vote, the Brexit Party, which mustered less than half that, at 14.8 percent, will also take a seat. The third-placed Liberal Democrats (13.8 percent), and Conservatives (11.6 percent) likewise take one seat each.

    The Scottish Labour party, which was forced into fifth with 9.3 percent, lost both of its representatives, including David Martin, who was Britain's longest-serving elected EU parliamentarian.

    Simon Pia, a former Scottish Labour press adviser, said the result signals "a death spiral" for Labour in Scotland.

     

    The UK Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster, has been widely pilloried by many British europhiles for adopting a somewhat ambiguous stance towards the UK's place in the EU. This, said Pia, gave the party in Scotland, which saw just 38 percent of Scots endorse Brexit in the 2016 in/out EU referendum, little chance to win back its once loyal support base.

    'Big boost'

    In Scotland, these results have added more fuel to the fire of the ongoing Scottish independence debate. In 2014, Scots voted by 55-45 percent to remain in the UK in the Scottish independence referendum - but the SNP is hoping to revisit the issue by calling for another independence poll.

    The Scottish Conservatives, seen as the biggest cheerleaders of the UK union in Scotland, is now the second-largest party at the Scottish Parliament and has become the party of choice for many anti-independence Scots. However, it only managed to retain a single Scottish seat at the European elections as the governing UK Conservatives, which, under the premiership of Theresa May, has been trying unsuccessfully to win support for their EU withdrawal agreement, suffered heavy losses Britain-wide.

    Pia told Al Jazeera the result "reaffirms Scotland's very distinct and different political culture to England, which is a big boost for the SNP."

    But as both the UK's forthcoming exit from the EU and a possible second Scottish independence referendum hang in the air in Scotland, it is, said Hassan, just a matter of time before the relative calm breaks.

    "We are - in some sense in Scotland - sitting in still waters before the storm engulfs us," Hassan said.

    Stand-alone Scotland

    Al Jazeera Correspondent

    Stand-alone Scotland

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News