GLASGOW (Reuters) – Scotland’s main pro-independence party on Friday won a wave of seats in a crucial Scottish parliamentary election that could determine the UK’s future, although its leader warned the result remained ” on the cutting edge ”.
The SNP has said it will seek to hold a new secession vote by the end of 2023 if a pro-independence majority returns to the decentralized 129-seat parliament – setting up a potential legal showdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson , who says he will refuse such a vote.
The SNP has won 27 of the first 30 seats declared so far, including taking East Lothian from the Labor Party and Ayr from the Johnson Tories, two of the main battlegrounds in the election.
However, in some areas support for pro-union opposition parties has increased, indicating that the end result would be very close, with some seats being allocated under a separate proportional representation system.
“A majority has always been a very, very long chance,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Prime Minister and SNP leader, adding that the electoral system for the decentralized parliament, which was created in 1999, favored small parties.
“It would be nice to do that. But I never took it for granted and it has always been a razor’s edge. I am extremely happy and extremely confident that we are on track in the SNP for a fourth consecutive election victory, ”said Sturgeon, who retained his own seat with a comfortable majority.
When asked what it would mean if the SNP won a majority, Johnson said he would wait and see what happens. “I don’t think people want a lot more constitutional wrangling right now,” he told reporters, echoing previous comments that it was wrong to focus on independence during the COVID crisis -19.
The outcome of the election could ultimately put Scotland on the path to severing its 314-year union with England. Scotland’s policy has diverged from that of other parts of Britain, but Scots remain divided over the prospect of another polarizing independence plebiscite.
Britain’s exit from the European Union – a move opposed by an overwhelming majority in Scotland – the perception that the Scottish government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well and the dislike of Johnson’s Conservative government in Westminster all strengthened support for the independence movement.
Scots voted 55% -45% in 2014 to remain part of the UK, in what pro-union parties say it should be voted once per generation. Polls suggest the outcome of a second referendum would be too close to be called.
If there was another referendum and the Scots voted to leave, it would mark the biggest shock to the UK since independence from Ireland a century ago.
The SNP must win at least four more seats to win an overall majority of 65, but could count on the support of the pro-independence Green Party, which won five seats in 2016, to secure a second vote.
The turnout across Scotland was higher than five years ago. Commentators said the SNP needs to get its supporters out to get a majority, when that could also mean a tactical vote from those who oppose the union’s dissolution.
Results of about two-thirds of the 73 constituency seats are expected on Friday. The remaining and regional seats – allocated under a complex proportional representation system based on a second vote – will be announced on Saturday.
All parties claim that the outcome of the regional seats, few of which will be won by the SNP, will be crucial to whether there is a pro-independence majority.