Nationalism or recovery: here’s what you need to know about the upcoming Scottish election

As the 6th of May approaches, Scottish political parties are gearing up for one of the most important elections in recent years: the current political climate has transformed in recent months, with calls for self-determination, recovery from the Covid pandemic and governmental scandals. Let’s try and unpack some of the key parties and some of their hopes and struggles going into this election.  

Looking for a leading majority vote in Scotland are the Scottish National Party (SNP), headed of course by Britain’s favourite Covid manager, Nicola Sturgeon. Since 2014’s unsuccessful referendum to leave the United Kingdom, the SNP have continued to bang on the door of Westminster to get another chance to let the people of Scotland vote in favour of independence. In recent leadership debates, Sturgeon has outlined plans to propose another referendum within the next two years of this election, making the lines between pandemic recovery and an independent Scotland blurred.  

Speaking to the Guardian, Sturgeon said Prime Minister Johnson will allow a second referendum once the SNP win their majority, saying he cannot deny democracy. With the handling of the pandemic being managed in stark contrast with devolved nations of Wales and Northern Ireland, Sturgeon has shown that Scotland can manage just fine without the Tories’ blundering record of lockdowns and a tier-system.  

Recent months however have shown that it’s not at all been fun and games for the SNP with the trial of former leader, and Scotland’s political comeback king, Alex Salmond having been alleged of sexual harassment while serving as First Minister. Salmond and Sturgeon used to be best pals, with her working as his deputy during the 2014 independence referendum and then taking over as leader once he quit. Recent claims of her supposed conspiring against her former colleague and leader have arisen, which she has branded as “absurd.” 

Sturgeon was then held in front of a parliamentary committee in her involvement in the allegations, which she was later cleared from. Needless to say, the whole saga between Sturgeon and Salmond has not worked wonders for the SNP ahead of their most important election yet. Having already faced an unsuccessful vote of confidence from Holyrood and a split in her party, Sturgeon sure has a lot riding on the 6th of May.  

Next up is Alex Salmond’s new party, Alba. Its name is Gaelic for Scotland and has to be therefore pronounced with four syllables with a Highland twang (being an Edinburgh boy, I’ve still not quite cracked it…).  

On the back of being accused of rape and sexual assault, Salmond has chosen a questionable time to start a new party, which hopes to secure a supermajority for Scottish independence.  

You’d hope to see that logical politicians could see right through a Farage-style Brexit party move from the former First Minister but there have been a few defectors from the SNP to jump aboard Alba. Among them are Neale Hanvey MP and former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, being labelled an “increasing embarrassment” from the Westminster leader of SNP, Ian Blackford. 

Given Scotland votes under the Additional Member System, giving the public votes for both their constituency candidate and on the proportionally representative regional list, smaller parties such as the Greens and the Lib Dems have benefitted from this second vote. It is Salmond’s hope that this is Alba’s way in to secure seats. Unfortunately for Alba, they’re not expected to have the impact they are hoping for with a poll estimating a vote share of 3 per cent meaning they won’t win a single seat. Doesn’t look like it’ll be the supermajority Salmond has hoped for.  

Onto the Scottish Labour Party and their new man in charge Anas Sarwar. Sarwar was voted in as leader back in February of this year and is hoping to get his party back on track after a ropey few years. In 2014, Labour had 41 MPs across Scotland and were the main opposition at Holyrood. Today, there is only one Labour MP at Westminster and the party are trailing behind the Scottish Conservatives. Sarwar knows he and his party have a mountain to climb going into this election, claiming he’s “not naïve about the scale of the challenge” his party faces.  

With the prospect of independence looming over Scottish politics, Sarwar has shifted the conversation to how Scotland can recover from the pandemic, trying to get other party leaders to come together. In the most recent STV debate, he argued that Sturgeon and Conservative Leader, Douglas Ross are both trying to divide the nation and ignore the opposing faction of the Scottish public. Instead, the emphasis should be made on the economic recovery of the nation, within the United Kingdom.  

A recent IPSOS MORI poll showed the gap is getting smaller between the Scottish Tories and Labour, invigorating Sarwar and Labour’s hopes to regain their historically successful record in Scotland, albeit in baby steps.  

What about the current opposition and their hopes to keep calls for independence away? The Tories, along with leader Ross, have served as the antipathy of Westminster rule for the SNP and other nationalist figures throughout the country. The Scottish Conservatives have however differed from their southern counterparts, through voting in favour of environmental bills as well as the embedding of UN convention of children’s rights into Scottish law. UK policymakers have decided to take the Scottish Government to court over, ultimately making the Scottish Tories not the most popular despite their somewhat more liberal views. 

Like Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives are fervently against a repeat of the 2014 referendum, similarly calling for a priority over the economic recovery from “the worst year.” 

Unlike Sarwar, however, Ross has been pretty keen to butt heads with the First Minister, introducing a vote of no confidence last month and calling for her resignation before the ministerial code report was published, finding her innocent of any wrongdoing. The Conservatives’ previous success in the 2016 Scottish General Election came from the list vote and they’ll be sure to try and repeat this tactic in a few weeks. Ross, just like his Westminster leader, is not short of a casually racist comment when he was asked in an interview what he would do if he was Prime Minister for a day, he replied he’d like to see “tougher enforcement on gypsy travellers,” needless to mention, an already persecuted minority of the UK population. He has since apologised but the comment has come back to bite him since becoming leader. The Tories have attempted to team up with other unionist parties in coalition against the SNP but Sarwar and Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie have seen right through it. It’s not looking too hopeful for the current opposition.  

With the pause in campaigning out of respect for the death of Prince Phillip ending, the race is back on. The SNP have the independence backing from the Scottish Greens and it is likely the two parties will go into coalition together if Sturgeon cannot secure a majority. With independence lurking in the years to come, this is a pivotal election not only for Scotland but for the Union and its future. 

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