Glasgow, Scotland – The Scottish National Party pulled off a resounding general election victory in Scotland in the UK-wide poll on Thursday.
As dawn broke over this weather-beaten island nation, millions of British voters woke to the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Conservative Party had won a majority of seats in the United Kingdom‘s House of Commons, fending off a floundering challenge from second-placed Labour, with the SNP taking third.
The pro-independence nationalists took 48 seats out of 59 Scottish constituencies, emboldening the party’s demands for a second independence referendum next year, and putting Scotland on a constitutional collision course with Johnson’s Conservative administration.
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister, who has now led her party to three consecutive UK general election victories in Scotland, as well as victory in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, stood on a platform of opposing Britain’s forthcoming withdrawal from the European Union – otherwise known as Brexit– and advocating a poll on Scotland’s right to choose its own constitutional future by 2020.
Sturgeon’s party gained 13 seats from the 2017 UK general election but was eight seats shy of the 56 it took in 2015. She said the result represented a “renewed, refreshed and strengthened” mandate for a second vote on Scottish statehood.
“It’s the second-best performance they’ve ever had at a Westminster election – and second-biggest mandate,” Gerry Hassan, a senior research fellow in contemporary Scottish history at Dundee University, told Al Jazeera. “It provides an opportunity for the SNP and a window to progress and advance towards an independence referendum.”
The result in Scotland means the prospect of the UK’s second-largest constituent nation revisiting its three-century-old union with England now takes centre stage once again. And, five years after Scots rejected sovereignty by 55-45 percent in the September 2014 independence referendum, the SNP’s emboldened batch of MPs will head to London with renewed vigour.
Simon Pia, a former Scottish Labour press adviser, told Al Jazeera that the SNP’s continued success – beginning when it won its maiden victory at the Scottish Parliament in 2007 – was a vindication of the party’s “progressive form of nationalism”.
The SNP have got their mandate... I don't think anybody could argue with that
He said that the centre-left SNP’s pro-EU and pro-immigration stance today sits in stark contrast to neighbouring England, which, unlike Scotland, voted to leave the EU in the 2016 in/out Brexit referendum and voted overwhelmingly for Johnson’s right-wing Conservatives on Thursday.
“There’s an English nationalism which has developed that is reactionary, pro-Brexit and which has retreated to the past,” said Pia. “Scottish nationalism is progressive – and looking to the future in a social democratic [manner] – whereas English nationalism has [fostered] resentment from Brexit. The two political cultures are very different.”
But the party faces a challenge if it is to succeed in gaining the required transfer of power from Westminster in order to hold a legally binding independence poll. The constitution remains a reserved matter to London, and Johnson looks likely to continue his resistance to consenting to another say on Scotland’s future.
Sturgeon has ruled out a Catalan-style independence referendum – which saw the Spanish region hold an unsanctioned plebiscite in October 2017 – but has not rejected the idea of testing the proposition of the Scottish Parliament legislating for another vote, without the UK government’s consent, in court.
“There will be a lot of pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to make the independence referendum happen by some means,” said pro-independence blogger James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop! “She’s shown herself to be very reluctant to hold a referendum without proper legal authority, but she could test the matter in court… It would be a terrible look for the Conservative government to be fighting the Scottish government in court over the question of whether the people of Scotland should have their say.”
Such was the tidal wave of SNP yellow that descended over the Scottish map in the early hours of Friday morning that the Scottish leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, was swept away by the party in her own seat in the west of Scotland by just 149 votes. Swinson, who, during the six-week election campaign insisted she could be the next British prime minister, swiftly resigned her position as party leader after just five months in the job.
But as Sturgeon presses ahead with her plans to hold a second sovereignty vote, the political focus will inevitably turn to Scotland’s left-leaning first minister and Britain’s right-wing prime minister.
“The SNP have got their mandate,” said Pia of the SNP landslide, which will see one of the party’s MPs sit as an independent due to anti-Semitism allegations. “I don’t think anybody could argue with that. But it’s going to be fascinating to see the face-off between Johnson and Sturgeon.”
Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi