The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.
While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.
What’s at stake?
A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.
Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.
There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.