The Scottish independence debate arises during the British ‘Super Thursday’ local elections
Britain will hold its first local and regional elections since Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic Thursday, with Scotland as the main focus on calls for a new independence referendum that could reform the country.
Voting starts at 7:00 am (6:00 am GMT) for local councils in England, regional mayors, including London, and for the delegated legislators in Wales and Scotland.
Surveys on what’s called “Super Thursday” close at 10pm, with most results expected from Friday, at the weekend, and early next week.
Most of the focus is on the vote in the Scottish Parliament, as the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) wants a new independence referendum if the pandemic abates.
The SNP leader, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, is aiming for a parliamentary majority after increasing her popularity with strong public engagement during the pandemic.
She stressed in a televised debate on Tuesday, “Getting through this crisis is my priority.”
The SNP has taken advantage of the widespread disappointment with the British Parliament in London to become the dominant political force in Scotland, but it is currently forming a minority government.
In Glasgow, Lorna McClure, a 60-year-old cleaning lady, said she was “all for Nicola Sturgeon”.
“I think she is very good for Scotland and I want independence,” she told AFP.
But Raghav Jay, a 35-year-old MBA student, said, “I think I would prefer Scotland to stay in the UK. So I prefer a party that will support that. ”
The latest polls suggest the SNP will gain a narrow majority for the first time since 2011, keeping it in power, although other studies have indicated a coalition is likely.
Securing London’s powers to hold a new referendum on independence and a “yes” vote is less certain, however, with indications that support for going it alone is waning.
Most Scots rejected Brexit, which has bolstered independence sentiment, although fears of renewed economic turmoil after the pandemic bolster support for staying in the UK.
The SNP promises that an independent Scotland would try to rejoin the European Union, but the practicalities are a matter of concern.
“We need strength in unity and to start new frontiers … would be madness,” said Alec Telfer, 64, president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders Association in Selkirk.
Scots cast two votes: one for a constituency MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and one for electing regional MSPs in a system of proportional representation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the 2014 referendum, where 55 percent of Scots voted “no”, closed the debate for a generation.
“This is not the time for a reckless and I think irresponsible referendum,” he said Wednesday.
The SNP insists it will only hold a referendum that is legally valid, although Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond and his newly formed Alba party want an immediate vote.
England’s municipal elections will test the support of Johnson’s Conservative Party after he led Britain out of the EU and through the pandemic, with the highest death toll in Europe, but also with the fastest rollout of vaccines.
Johnson recently averted a scandal over the costly renovations to his Downing Street flat.
The results will be viewed to see if Johnson’s party manages to hold on to gains in the 2019 general election and previous local votes following the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The main opposition Labor party, led by Keir Starmer since last year, is hoping for a win in its so-called “Red Wall” seats in Northern England that it lost to the Tories in 2019.
It also wants to stick to the northeastern port town of Hartlepool, which has had Labor MPs since the 1970s, while simultaneously holding a UK parliamentary election.
Victory there would boost Johnson and put pressure on Starmer as he tries to reposition the party after the far-left leadership of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
In London, incumbent Labor incumbent Sadiq Khan – Britain’s most prominent Muslim politician – is predicted to win a second four-year term in the high-profile mayoral race.
No candidate has the profile of Jihyun Park, who stands as a councilor for the Conservatives in Bury, near Manchester, in the north west of England.
She arrived in Britain thirteen years ago after fleeing a North Korean prison camp.
“The British people welcomed me to this country and I finally found my freedom. I want to pay back, ”she told AFP in February.