LONDON — A new and potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus has begun to outpace other versions of the virus in Britain, putting pressure on the government to shorten people’s wait for second doses of vaccines and illustrating the risks of a faltering global immunization drive.
The new variant, which has become dominant in India since first being detected there in December, may be responsible in part for a grievous wave of infections across Southeast Asia, including Nepal, where people have been dying in hospital corridors and courtyards. But efforts to understand the variant picked up once it began spreading in Britain, one of at least 49 countries where it is present. Scientists there are sequencing half of all coronavirus cases amid a push to complete the reopening of its economy.
The preliminary results out of Britain, drawn from only a few thousand cases of the variant, contained both good and bad news, scientists said.
The variant, known by evolutionary biologists as B.1.617.2, is “highly likely” to be more transmissible than the variant behind Britain’s devastating wintertime surge, government scientists have said. That earlier variant, known as B.1.1.7, was itself considerably more contagious than the one that first emerged last year in Wuhan, China.
Public Health England report published this weekend provided signs that government scientists said were consistent with a more transmissible virus: The variant first seen in India was roughly 50 percent more likely than B.1.1.7 to be transmitted to the close contacts of an infected person. Government scientists said last week that it could be anywhere from a few percentage points to 50 percent more contagious than B.1.1.7.
Helpfully for Britain and other wealthy nations, the latest worrisome variant has emerged at a less dire moment of the pandemic. More than four out of every five people in England above the age of 65 — among the groups most vulnerable to the virus — have been given both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, driving down hospitalizations and deaths.
And a new study by Public Health England offered reassuring signs that fully vaccinated people were about as well protected from the variant first detected in India as they were from other forms of the coronavirus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered 88 percent protection against the variant first sampled in India, only a slight drop from the 93 percent protection given against the variant from Britain, Public Health England said. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was 60 percent effective against the variant from India, compared to 66 percent effective against the one first seen in Britain.
Other studies in England have shown little to no difference between the effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
wrote on Twitter.
In Britain, part of its rapid growth may have to do with the particular places it was first introduced. Bolton, in northwest England, where the new variant is most advanced, is a highly deprived area with tightly packed housing that could be hastening its spread, scientists said.
“We do not know if the increase in transmissibility is the result of specific mixing patterns, or super-spreading events,” a group of researchers led by Robert Challen of the University of Exeter reported on May 11, in a study that was among those presented to an influential government advisory group.
That government advisory body said several days later that it had “high confidence” that the variant first seen in India was indeed more contagious, warning that a “substantial resurgence of hospitalizations” was possible. It said that the variant was gaining a foothold in diverse parts of Britain where “contact patterns or behaviors” alone could not explain its spread.
It is not clear if the variant from India is any deadlier than B.1.1.7.
With cases of B.1.1.7 falling, the variant first seen in India now accounts for roughly half of the sequenced coronavirus cases being monitored by Public Health England. The agency’s scientists have said it was likely to replace B.1.1.7 as England’s dominant virus within a month, a startling turnabout so soon after B.1.1.7 swept much of the world.
“For countries that are starting to struggle with B.1.1.7, they now know they have an even faster one close by,” said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
experimenting with ways to encourage sick people to isolate.
Some scientists have urged the government to go further by dramatically closing the gap between doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, for instance, and rerouting those shots to cities hardest hit by the variant from India. Because the AstraZeneca vaccine appears most protective with a 12-week dosing interval, those scientists said, using it meant leaving people only partially vaccinated for a period of time.
At the very least, Professor Sridhar said, people needed to be reminded to remain cautious until they were fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to scrap almost all remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21 rests in large part, scientists said, on how many second doses Britain can administer in the coming weeks.
For many poorer nations, starved for vaccines, there is little choice but to leave long delays between first and second doses. Some of them are uncertain about when shipments of second doses will arrive. Large portions of those countries remain entirely unprotected.
If the variant from India spreads as quickly in other countries as it has in Britain, the burden on unvaccinated nations may grow.
“It’s a warning,” Professor Sridhar said. “What we’re seeing in India is being repeated in Nepal, it’s being repeated in other countries. You need to get ahead of it.”
LONDON — The thieves broke into an imposing castle in the English countryside and took a rare bounty: rosary beads that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, along with other gold and silver artifacts that the authorities said were worth over $1.4 million.
The theft came just days after historical sites in England were allowed to reopen after months of lockdown, and the police are asking visitors who might have witnessed suspicious behavior before the crime last Friday at Arundel Castle, about 60 miles southwest of London, to come forward.
Apart from their material value, the items stolen had “immeasurably greater and priceless historical importance,” a spokesman for the castle’s trustees said in a statement. “We therefore urge anyone with information to come forward to the police to assist them in returning these treasures back where they belong.”
The castle and its grounds, a near thousand-year-old site that is the principal home of the Duke of Norfolk, had only reopened to visitors on Tuesday. The police said in a briefing on Sunday that the thieves had taken the items from a display cabinet along a route taken by visitors, and were investigating whether an abandoned car on fire found in a nearby village shortly after the burglary was related to the crime. Other items stolen included several coronation cups and other gold and silver treasures.
on Twitter, adding that the men around the Catholic royal had tried to force her conversion to Protestantism before her death and refused to allow a chaplain to pray with her. Many of her belongings were lost or burned to stop them from becoming relics, making the beads even more important, she said.
The heist was “definitely targeted,” said James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at The Art Loss Register, a database of stolen art, adding that it was unlikely to be an accident that it had coincided with the castle’s recent reopening, and that the culprits could have carried out a reconnaissance or even stayed hidden in the castle after it closed on Friday.
Thieves have targeted other treasures from public exhibitions at stately homes in England in recent years. In 2019, a fully functioning 18-karat gold toilet — not an aristocratic indulgence but an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan — was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the vast stately home near Oxford where Winston Churchill was born. It has yet to be recovered. And in a similar crime, thieves broke into Sudeley Castle in southwest England, smashed a display case and made away with jewelry and artifacts.
Even with their material worth, such recognizable items would be difficult to sell, Mr. Ratcliffe said, and buyers would be wary of the potential for prosecution if they were caught. Intact, they could fetch as little as 50,000 pounds (about $71,000). But if the artifacts were melted down to their base materials — the “worst case scenario,” he said — they would lose their cultural value and be worth even less.
He was keeping his fingers crossed, he added, that the thieves would “see reason” and return the items anonymously to avoid getting caught. “There’s an awful lot of risk for very little reward,” he said.
GAZA CITY — Riad Ishkontana had promised his children that their building on Al Wahida Street was safe, though for Zein, his 2-year-old son, the thunder of the airstrikes spoke louder than his reassurances.
The Israelis had never bombed the neighborhood before, he told them. Theirs was a comfortable, tranquil area by Gaza City standards, full of professionals and shops, nothing military. The explosions were still far away. To soothe them all, he started calling home “the house of safety.”
Mr. Ishkontana, 42, tried to believe it, too, though around them the death toll was climbing — not by inches, but by leaps, by housefuls, by families.
He was still telling the children about their house of safety all the way up until after midnight early Sunday morning, when he and his wife were watching more plumes of gray smoke rising from Gaza on TV. She went to put the five children to bed. For all his attempts at comforting them, the family felt more secure sleeping all together in the boys’ room in the middle of the third-floor apartment.
killed 227 Palestinians in Gaza, striking at Hamas militants who were firing rockets at Israel from the coastal strip, but in the process further compounding the agony of what, for Gaza’s two million residents, is already a kind of crumbling open-air prison. Its electricity, water, sanitation and health care systems, rarely stable before the airstrikes, are now in shambles. With its borders shut by Israel and Egypt, there is nowhere for its people to flee.
a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” the White House principal deputy press secretary said. European governments were also pushing for an immediate cease-fire, while international parties, including Egypt, attempted to mediate.
Hamas rockets have also kept killing people in Israel — 13 in all since the start on May 10. Among the dead were three foreign workers, who make up most of Israel’s agricultural work force but have long endured squalid living conditions there. After two Thai employees of a packaging plant near the Gaza border were killed on Tuesday, a local official told The Times of Israel newspaper that the agricultural community where they worked did not have an adequate shelter against rockets.
Israel says its American-funded Iron Dome defense system has intercepted about 90 percent of the rockets.
In Gaza, there is neither Iron Dome nor dedicated shelter, only the strip’s United Nations-run schools, whose classrooms are overflowing with 47,000 evacuees. The United Nations said another 29,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and shelter with other families, for a total of about 75,000 people displaced in Gaza by the Israeli military campaign.
In the jagged blackness where he was buried under what had been his apartment, Mr. Ishkontana said, he could hear Zein, his 2-year-old, moving around and crying, “Baba! Baba!” Dana, 8, was also calling to her father for help, her voice trembling.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Mr. Ishkontana was pinned in place. The walls, pillar and roof had fallen on his chest, back, hand and right leg, breaking two ribs and slicing off a finger. He tried shouting for help, but he barely had the strength.
“I was surrounded by death and the end of life,” he said. “I felt like my life was over. I was waiting for death at any moment.”
After a few minutes, Zein went quiet. So did Dana.
Six hours passed.
Then there was a noise, Mr. Ishkontana recalled. A whir of machinery, faint but unmistakable. A bulldozer?
“Who’s alive?” he heard a man calling. “Is anyone alive?”
Hope crashed over him, carrying with it the thought: I’m going to live.
“Oh God!” he started shouting, alternating prayers with calls to the rescuers. One of them told him to keep breathing while they dug down toward him through the debris, gray but for the occasional splotch of floral couch or purple dishrag or bag of bread.
The rescuer asked Mr. Ishkontana if there were any signs of life around him.
No, he said.
When Mr. Ishkontana saw a small hole open up above him, he stuck two fingers through it to let them know they had found him. Up above, people were chanting, “God is great! God is great!” He raised the two fingers in a weak victory sign.
His feelings, he said in an interview on Wednesday at a relative’s house, where visitors had come to offer condolences after he was discharged from a hospital, were a jumble: “power, mercy, strength, survival.”
“A new life appeared on the horizon when they moved the rubble,” said Mr. Ishkontana, who, after losing his job as a waiter at a Thai restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic, had turned to odd jobs. “Even though I was thinking at the same time that because I lost my family, my whole life was gone.”
At Shifa Hospital several hours later, someone gave him the news: One of his daughters, 7-year-old Suzy, had been found alive under the rubble a few hours after him, only lightly wounded in the face. In joy, then terror, he asked about the rest of his family: his wife, Abeer, 28; and Dana, 8; Lana, 6; Yahya, 5; and baby Zein.
The man said rescuers were still hoping to save them from the rubble.
But he knew that the man was trying to cushion the blow, Mr. Ishkontana said. He knew they were all gone.
Iyad Abuheweila reported from Gaza City, and Vivian Yee from Cairo. Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel, and Elian Peltier from Inverie, Scotland.
LONDON — Pubs opened for drinks indoors, lights went on in theaters and airports buzzed with a steady stream of travelers on Monday, but the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England was accompanied by growing fears that a variant of the virus could delay a full return to normality.
The lifting of a wide range of coronavirus rules Monday coincided with a small but worrying spike in cases of a variant, first identified in India, that threatens a lockdown-lifting road map frequently described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “cautious but irreversible.”
Already, the second part of that pledge is sounding less secure than it once seemed. In recent days the authorities have scrambled to ramp up testing and inoculation in parts of the country seeing a sharp rise in cases of the more transmissible variant. More than 6,200 people were vaccinated over the weekend in Bolton, a badly hit town near Manchester in the northwest of England.
The opposition Labour Party has accused Mr. Johnson of bringing on the trouble by delaying a decision to close borders to flights from India last month, while government scientific advisers have expressed their concerns about moving too fast to remove curbs.
Even Mr. Johnson, who is normally only too keen to ridicule pessimists as “doomsters and gloomsters,” urged Britons to be cautious in the face of the threat from the new variant, saying that there was a risk of “significant disruption” to plans for easing rules.
Nor did Mr. Johnson plan to visit a pub or restaurant on Monday to celebrate in front of the TV cameras, his office said.
In recent weeks Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit for a highly successful vaccine program that, combined with lockdown restrictions, has cut cases and death rates to a fraction of their peak numbers. That has enabled England to start easing the burden on many of the parts of the economy that were worst affected by a lockdown in January.
Under the changes that came into force on Monday, pubs and restaurants can serve indoors as well as outside, people can hug each other and mix inside their homes in limited numbers.
Museums, theaters and movie theaters, sports stadiums, hotels and indoor playgrounds opened their doors again in England, though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have slightly different timetables and conditions for relaxing rules.
A legal ban on all but essential foreign travel ended too, though travelers to any other than a small number of destinations will have to quarantine on their return.
Altogether, that represents the first real breath of freedom for many in England since the third national lockdown was declared in early January. Though restaurants and pubs have been able to serve food and drink outdoors for several weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cold and often rainy, leaving many diners and drinkers shivering in damp beer gardens.
While the government will fight hard not to have to reverse the changes introduced on Monday, there are growing doubts about whether it can proceed with the next stage of the road map.That change, scheduled to take place on June 21,would scrap almost all remaining restrictions.
But with a surge of cases in some communities, including Bolton, the government is refusing to rule out any measures, possibly including the imposition of new restrictions on specific Covid-19 hot spots.
“We must be humble in the face of this virus,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told Parliament on Monday, adding that there were now 86 areas with five or more cases of the variant whose higher transmission rate “poses a real risk.” While the overall case numbers, at 2,323, remain low, they have been multiplying rapidly.
Mr. Johnson continues to hear criticism for failing to clamp down fast enough on travel from India, even sparing it for some weeks after placing restrictions on travel from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Under Britain’s travel system those arriving from “red list” countries that are deemed high risk are required to quarantine in hotels.
“Our borders have been as secure as a sieve,” said Jonathan Ashworth, who speaks for the opposition Labour Party on health issues. “The delay in adding India to the red list surely now stands as a catastrophic misstep.”
Pakistan and Bangladesh were red listed on April 9 but India was not added until April 23, and Mr. Johnson’s critics have suggested he was reluctant to upset India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, with whom he is trying to strike a trade deal.
Mr. Hancock rejected that claim and said that significantly more people arriving from Bangladesh and Pakistan tested positive for Covid-19 than those arriving from India. In Parliament on Monday he accused the Labour Party of selective hindsight, saying that last month the Indian variant had not been identified as one of concern.
But some experts believe that the government should have reacted faster to the emergence of the variant. “Many of us in the U.K., we’re appalled at the huge delay in classifying it as a variant of concern,” said PeterEnglish, a retired consultant in communicable disease control.
“You can’t stop diseases from crossing boundaries — they inevitably will,” he said, adding: “But you can slow the spread, and while that’s happening, you can learn more about it.”
Mr. English said that there was not yet enough data available to determine how effectivevaccines are in combating the variant, but added that more financial support should be given to those on low incomes who need to self-isolate.
In general, Britons are being offered vaccination based on their age, with those oldest treated first. Appointments are to be extended this week to 37-year-olds, Mr. Hancock said.
However, in areas affected by the Indian variant, health chiefs appear to be offering vaccines to some younger people, using the flexibility in guidelines that, for example, suggest the vaccination of those living in a multigenerational household.
On Monday, Mr. Hancock also said that of 19 cases in Bolton hospitals, most of the patients were eligible for vaccination but had not had one. That prompted a debate in and beyond Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party about whether the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be reversed to protect people who refuse a vaccine.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer and theater impresario, told the BBC that vaccine hesitancy was not only foolish but selfish. He added that he could not reopen his shows without an assurance that all restrictions would be eased as planned from June 21, allowing for full seating without distancing.
“I just feel so strongly at the moment, particularly the people who are not getting vaccinated and everything, just how selfish it is because so many people depend on this June 21 date, they really depend on it,” he said.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Friday that vaccination protocols would be changed to swiftly deliver second doses to people over 50-years-old to combat the spread of a coronavirus variant first detected in India, a warning sign for countries that are easing restrictions even though their own vaccination campaigns are incomplete.
“We believe this variant is more transmissible than the previous ones,” Mr. Johnson said. What remained unclear, he said, was by how much. The infectiousness of the variant first detected in India remains the subject of intense study and some leading experts have said it is too early to assess its transmissibility.
If it proves significantly more transmissible, he said, “we face some hard choices.” He added that there was no evidence that the variant was more likely to cause serious illness and death, and there was no evidence to suggest vaccines were less effective against the variant in preventing serious illness and death.
While he said the country would not delay plans to ease restrictions on Monday, he warned that the spread of the variant could force the government to change course.
The extent to which the variant has spread globally is unclear, because most countries lack the genomic surveillance capabilities employed in England.
That surveillance capability has allowed health officials in Britain to spot the rise of concerning variants more quickly than other nations, offering an early warning system of sorts as a variant seen in one nation almost invariably pops up in others.
Most cases detected in Britain are in northwestern England. The focus has been on Bolton, a town of nearly 200,000 that has one of the country’s highest rates of infection and where health officials have warned of widespread community transmission of the variant. Some cases have also been reported in London. The rapid spread of the variant has led officials to debate speeding up dosing schedules and opening up access to shots in hot spots to younger age groups.
Much is unknown about the new variant, but scientists fear it may have driven the rise of cases in India and could fuel outbreaks in neighboring countries.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the World Health Organization’s coronavirus response, said a study of a limited number of patients, which had not yet been peer-reviewed, suggested that antibodies from vaccines or infections with other variants might not be quite as effective against B.1.617. The agency said, however, that vaccines were likely to remain potent enough to provide protection from serious illness and death.
British officials have said the variant appears to be more contagious than the B.1.1.7 variant, which was detected last year in Kent, southeast of London and swept across Britain in the winter, forcing the country into one of the world’s longest national lockdowns. The B.1.1.7 variant has now been found in countries around the world.
The B.1.617 variant has been found in virus samples from 44 countries and was designated a variant of concern by the W.H.O. this week, which means there is some evidence that it could have an impact on diagnostics, treatments or vaccines and needs to be closely monitored.
said on Twitter.
Britain briefly reopened its economy at the end of last year, only to abruptly impose new restrictions that remained in place for months as it fought a deadly wave of infections.
In an attempt to offer at least partial protection to as many people as quickly as possible, Britain spaced injections between doses for two-stage coronavirus vaccines up to 12 weeks after the first vaccines were approved in December. That was far longer than the three- or four-week interval employed by most other countries.
Mr. Johnson said that those older than 50 will now be able to get second doses after eight weeks.
“It is more important than ever that people get the additional protection of a second dose,” he said.
The speedy rollout saved at least 11,700 lives and prevented 33,000 people from becoming seriously ill in England, according to research released by Public Health England on Friday.
Infections, serious illness and deaths have plummeted across Britain. Only 17 deaths were reported on Friday.
But the vaccination campaign has slowed down since last month because of supply shortages and the need to start distributing second doses. The number of daily first doses on average last month was 113,000, far below the average of 350,000 daily doses administered in March.
Only those over 38-years-old are currently eligible for vaccination.
It remains unclear whether the country has the vaccine supplies on hand to move rapidly to surge more into communities around the country to speed up vaccinating younger age groups.
LONDON — Sober, cerebral and with the poise of the top-shelf lawyer he once was, Keir Starmer promised competence rather than charisma when he became leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party last year, following its crushing general election defeat in 2019.
But his panicky response to last week’s poor local election results and a clumsy reshuffle of his top team have left his party in turmoil, diminishing his authority and raising doubts about whether Labour has a credible path back to power.
Mr. Starmer found himself embroiled in fierce recriminations over local election results that, with smoother communication, could have been explained away as disappointing, but instead pointed to a deeper crisis.
“The one thing Keir Starmer was supposed to be was competent,” said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. “The election results were not good but they weren’t as bad as some people liked to present them. He completely messed up his reaction, and that highlights concerns about his ability to communicate.”
under its last leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said on Twitter.
claims Mr. Johnson broke electoral rules over the financing of a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.
But Britons apparently ignored those goings on in Westminster, and with the country now emerging from Covid-19 restrictions seemed to reward politicians who controlled health policies. The ruling Scottish National Party in Scotland performed strongly, as did the governing Labour Party in Wales.
In England, Mr. Johnson was forgiven for his chaotic early handling of the pandemic and rewarded for the country’s highly successfulvaccination roll out.
Not all is lost for Mr. Starmer, particularly when the entirety of last week’s results are taken into account. According to a BBC analysis projecting the local voting into a national vote share, Labour was seven points behind the Conservatives, hardly a good result but progress on the 12-point deficit recorded in the 2019 general election.
With no credible challenger waiting in the wings, Mr. Starmer is unlikely to face any immediate threat to his leadership. Nonetheless, the speed with which critics attacked his reshuffle raises pressure on Mr. Starmer to at least identify a message that can appeal to two very different groups of Britons — the old working class stalwarts and the more youthful, liberal and better educated city dwellers.
“Under Starmer it has been two steps forward and one step back,” said Mr. Fielding, “and he hasn’t addressed the problem of how you win back the red wall without losing metropolitan liberal voters.”
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.
Why are Scottish parliamentary elections so important for independence?
Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.
Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.
What are the results showing?
They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.
So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.
Can Boris Johnson stop ‘indyref2?’
For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.
Case closed then?
Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.
That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.
LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were dampened on Saturday, as early election results showed the dominant Scottish nationalist party falling just short of a majority in the country’s parliament.
The results, if confirmed after the votes are fully counted by Saturday evening, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.
Yet pro-independence parties were on track to stay in overall control, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away will continue to bedevil the United Kingdom.
The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party in the election, held on Thursday, is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists could tighten their control over the regional Parliament.
a bitter feud with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched internal investigation of sexual misconduct charges against him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking rules and even conspiring against Mr. Salmond, a former close ally.
Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and misleading Parliament just as the campaign got underway, but the dispute dented her image. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway party, Alba, which did not appear on track to win any seats but served as a reminder of the internecine split.
“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen said. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain scored a striking political victory on Friday when his Conservative Party snatched a bellwether parliamentary seat from the opposition Labour Party, which had held it since the constituency’s creation in the 1970s.
In a by-election in Hartlepool, in the northeast of England, the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, easily defeated her rivals, consolidating Mr. Johnson’s earlier successes in winning over voters in working-class areas that had traditionally sided mainly with Labour.
Better still for the prime minister, the vote on Thursday came after days of publicity over claims that he broke electoral rules over the financing of an expensive refurbishment of his apartment.
That appeared to have counted for little with voters in Hartlepool, an economically struggling coastal town, when the results were announced Friday morning after an overnight count.
after a successful vaccination program for which Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit.
Though not unexpected, the outcome underscored the extent to which Mr. Johnson is rewriting Britain’s electoral map and dealt a blow to Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader. Mr. Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn last year after Labour’s defeat in the December 2019 general election, its worst performance in more than 80 years.
That landslide election victory for the Conservatives in 2019 followed the crisis over Britain’s exit from the European Union, and Mr. Johnson scored well in many traditional working-class communities with his appeal to voters to give him the power to “get Brexit done.”
Though Britain has now completed its European Union withdrawal, and the issue is fading somewhat, the new Conservative victory suggests that Mr. Johnson remains popular in areas — like Hartlepool — that voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum.
Collectively known as the “red wall,” because they were once heartlands of the Labour Party, these areas are being targeted by Mr. Johnson who has promised to “level up” by bringing prosperity to the north and middle of England, and to areas that feel forgotten.
Elections also took place on Thursday in Scotland and those could present a bigger threat to Mr. Johnson. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, is hoping for a strong performance that she can use to justify her call for a new referendum on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom.
If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.
It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.
When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.
Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.
shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.
Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.
Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.
Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.
Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.
Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.
But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.
After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.
There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.
In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.
On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.
Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.
Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.
It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.
Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.
But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.