Scotland ’s Independence Referendum: A Social Demand or a Personal Will?

The 2021 Scottish Parliament election is going to be held on 6 May under the provision of the Scotland Act 1998. A majority of MSPs who support independence will give Scottish National Party's (SNP) current leader a mandate to call for a second independence referendum. The most recent polls show rising support for the SNP, which brings the party to a majority in Holyrood and increases the prospects of an independence referendum.

The Scottish Parliament elections will be held on 6 May 2021, and Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish National Party’s (SNP) leader and first minister, has announced that if the party secures the majority of seats, the Scottish government will hold an independence referendum. A recent survey by Ipsos Mori revealed that her party can get more than half of the constituency votes and win 70 of the 129 seats in Holyrood. Securing the majority of seats will strengthen her in requesting a second independence referendum. The matter of independence referendum is a historical discussion in Scotland that has been raised many times by the nationalists. Four centuries ago, in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, the crowns of Scotland and England united. In 1707, the Act of Union united the parliaments of both countries. Scotland was a very weak country then, and signing the Act of Union was considered a choice of the ruling classes. Nationalists in Scotland have preferred a home rule and by the end of the nineteen century a Scottish Home Rule Association was created. Independence is a social process. Various events, such as Brexit, the pandemic and Tory extremism, have accelerated the Scots’ wish for independence.


20th Century, the Origin of Scottish Nationalist Movement

After 1886, Scottish home rule was debated 15 times at the Scottish Parliament and, in 1913, a second reading of a Home Rule Bill was passed. However, World War I broke out and the project was shelved. But campaigners for home rule in Scotland did not drop the idea. After the war, national parties formed in Scotland, because many people in the country believed they were an older, more established nation, giving them the right to self-determination. On the other hand, during the First World War, Britain could not hold on to the Empire and countries such as Canada and Australia gained autonomy in 1926. The main psychological reason behind the independence referendum idea rested in the nationhood and statehood mentality of the Scottish people at the time. A shift in social demands and political parties in the early twenty century was the origin of nationalist movements in Scotland. Scottish nationalists with a focus on culture preferred a country that had control over its own industries and resources, and so they initiated the idea of an independence referendum.


SNP Was Split Between Devolution and Independence

Eventually, in 1934, the union between the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party formed the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP devoted itself to constitutional changes and  won a by-election in 1976. The main Scottish parties had been reluctant to accept the home rule issue, but when  North Sea oil was discovered in 1970, support for devolution and nationalism grew, because many economic fears for Scotland were eliminated. In 1979, the SNP was split between devolution and independence demands. In the 1997 referendum, the  majority of people in Scotland voted for a parliament within the UK and in 1998 the UK Parliament passed the Scotland Act 1998 and created the Scottish Parliament. Under section 44 of the Scotland Act 1998, a Scottish Executive was created. In 2007, the SNP was the largest party in the Scottish Parliament and Alex Salmond, the leader of the party, became first minister. Following the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP changed the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government.


The SNP Has Been Talking About the Independence Referendum Since 2007

Before the 2007 elections, the SNP had promised to hold an independence referendum in 2010. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, in September 2009 announced that he had scheduled an independence referendum for November 2010. Salmond could not get an allowance for an independence referendum in 2010 with his minority government. At that time, the Unionist Party of Scotland considered more financial power for the Scottish Parliament, but Salmond wanted the people’s vote. The SNP leader highlighted that the SNP government had been chosen with the popular vote and the public should be asked in an independence referendum whether they want to stay in the UK or not. At the time, Nichola Sturgeon was deputy first minister of the SNP and had announced an independence referendum would not be held before the 2011 elections. She had said the people of Scotland will decide for themselves on independence during the parliamentary elections. She argued that the SNP wanted more powers, in particular more economic power, for the Scottish Parliament and also wanted an independence referendum.


The 2011 SNP Victory Paved the Way to the Independence Referendum

During the parliamentary elections of May 2011, the SNP stormed to victory and launched its goal for an independence referendum a few months later. The campaign announced it would hold the independence referendum near the end of the five-year parliament. A few months later, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron  said that clarity was needed about the independence referendum. First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond said the independence referendum would be the biggest decision the Scots would make in 300 years. He mentioned that the date for the referendum had to be set for autumn 2014. In February 2012, Salmond and Cameron met and discussed the referendum deal. Those who opposed the independence referendum were called Better Together and Westminster supported them. Better Together believed that Scotland was stronger as part of the UK. Whereas, pro-independence people believed that it would allow the Scottish people to have the governments they vote for themselves. In October 2012, UK and Scottish ministers reached a deal over a referendum and settled the final points for the first independence referendum ever.


Scots Said NO in the 1st Scottish Independence Referendum

The historic   independence referendum was held on 18 September 2014 and the voters were asked whether Scotland should be an independent country or not. That referendum was held after two acts had been passed in the Scottish Parliament. The Independence Referendum Act (Franchise) 2013 and The Independence Referendum Act 2013 were passed in August and November 2013 respectively. Nicola Sturgeon, as deputy first minister, introduced the franchise act on 11 March 2013. It was an Act of the Scottish Parliament to decide who would be allowed to vote in the independence referendum; young people from the age of sixteen were allowed to do so. The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill was an Act of the Scottish Parliament to decide on holding the referendum in Scotland under the provision of the Scotland Act 1998. In the 2014 referendum, a majority of 55.3% voted in favour of keeping Scotland in the UK and only 44.7%  voted YES to independence.

Brexit Ignites a Second Independence Referendum in Scotland

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is a nationalist political party that has been ruling in Scotland for the last decade. The party emerged in the early twentieth century when, as a result of World War I, people in European countries demanded independence and power. Although Scotland’s first and historic referendum in 2014 failed to bring independence,  there was a turning point in Scottish society in 2016 following the Brexit referendum. In the EU referendum, Scots overwhelmingly voted to remain. Although the final outcome of the EU referendum in the UK was 51% for leave, 62% of Scots voted to ‘remain’. Moreover, many people in Scotland believe that the UK Prime Minister has not handled the Covid-19 pandemic properly. The pandemic has been damaging to the bonds holding the UK together. According to polls, 54% of people in Scotland believe that the Scottish government has handled the coronavirus better and they prefer independence from the UK. If the SNP can secure the majority of seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, this party will hold a second independence referendum.

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