Glasgow, United Kingdom – Scotland‘s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, addressed a rally of thousands of activists in Glasgow’s George Square on Saturday, calling for a new referendum on independence to be held in 2020.
This was her first appearance in person at such a rally since the 2014 referendum, and significant challenges to holding a fresh vote remain.
With the United Kingdom heading to the polls in December, the SNP, which Sturgeon leads, is expected to win a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster again. She told activists: “The general election we face is the most important for Scotland in our lifetimes – our future is on the line.”
The 2014 vote, which saw a 55-45 percent loss for the pro-independence “Yes” campaign was described at the time by the SNP as a “once-in-a-generation” event.
In the years since, there have been rallies and marches by pro-independence activists, though the SNP has officially kept its distance from the grassroots campaigners – until this weekend.
Support for a new independence referendum gathered momentum after the 2016 Brexit vote, in which Scotland voted to remain in the European Union by 62-38 percent. The SNP has said that the removal of Scotland from the EU against its wishes, and with the predicted negative economic effects, is a fundamental breach of the promise made to Scottish voters in 2014.
Manny Singh, director of operations for the Scottish Independence Movement campaign group and an SNP volunteer, organised a march to Saturday’s event.
“Today’s national rally has been held at short notice, but we still have a good turnout,” he told Al Jazeera. “The cause won’t die until we become independent.
“Without independence, we can’t have control of our own destiny; no national bank, no international trade.”
On the prospect of a second referendum being allowed by politicians in London, he said, “They can’t stop it – it’s up to the Scottish people, nobody else”.
Sturgeon has said that any referendum would have to be able to gain international recognition, which would require a vote being legal and endorsed ahead of time by the UK government.
But not everybody agrees that holding another referendum is feasible. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out allowing a vote in the foreseeable future, and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested he would be inclined to “wait” before granting permission for another referendum. The SNP, therefore, has no clear road, as things stand, to holding its desired referendum in 2020.
December’s election may change that. The SNP are expected to increase their majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, which could give them the numbers to support a Labour administration in exchange for a vote on independence.
Colin Fox is national spokesman for the Scottish Socialist Party, which supports independence. He told Al Jazeera that a clear electoral turnout of support for pro-independence parties “is the answer to getting a second referendum”.
“We have to make Johnson an offer he can’t refuse,” he said. “If we have a majority in favour of independence then he will have to concede he’s on the wrong side of history.”
In 2017, Catalan pro-independence activists organised a referendum in defiance of Spanish law, which saw police sent into the region and scores of activists arrested.
Valentina Servera Clavell is a Catalan-born activist living in Scotland, and international officer for campaigning group Young Scots for Independence.
“I campaign for independence for Scotland because I feel like this is my home,” she told Al Jazeera, adding, “we need a pro-independence majority in this election to say, ‘Give us a second referendum.'”
Reflecting on the Catalan experience in 2017 – and the prospect of a referendum being denied in Scotland, she added: “You are not going to change anybody’s mind with fear; the Spanish government has probably turned more Catalans to independence than activists have.”
Saturday’s rally saw Nicola Sturgeon attempt to bridge the gap between grassroots activists and the political establishment. However, despite domestic support for independence remaining at around 50 percent, any future referendum will clearly depend on factors outside of Scotland.