Scotland goes to the polls on May 6 for what guarantees to be a landmark nationwide election. It’s the primary for the reason that Brexit referendum in June 2016, which led to Scotland (and Northern Ireland) leaving the EU towards its will.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has lengthy mentioned this can be a “materials change” within the nation’s circumstances that justifies a second referendum on Scottish independence. Support for independence has been a lot improved ever since. Sturgeon is now utilizing the May election to hunt a mandate for a second referendum.
To assist perceive the machinations, we caught up with Kezia Dugdale for our podcast The Conversation Weekly. She is the director of the John Smith Centre on the University of Glasgow and a lecturer in public coverage. She was Scottish Labour chief between 2015 and 2017. Here are some edited extracts from the conservation.
Q: Can you clarify what’s at stake on May 6?
The No aspect received the 2014 referendum with 55% of the vote, and we thought that that will be the top of the constitutional query. But as a result of it was comparatively shut, questions across the devolution settlement and Scotland’s continued place within the UK have continued to dominate. Whether you might be Yes or No to independence remains to be the most important issue over how you’ll vote in May.
Labour individuals get very uncomfortable with such a binary dynamic. People within the occasion don’t outline themselves as both nationalists or unionists a lot as social democrats or democratic socialists. Some would possibly assist independence; some would possibly assist the United Kingdom. Some like me assist a federal answer, with much more devolution throughout the 4 nations of the UK, however retaining a UK-wide community to redistribute energy and wealth. That’s fairly completely different to a unionism that’s rather more about queen and nation, a flag-waving British nationalism.
Listen to Kezia Dugdale’s interview in The Conversation Weekly podcast.
Q: Does that division over unionism stop an electoral coalition between the unionist events?
Just a little bit. You have to recollect that there have been some odd bedfellows within the 2014 referendum. In the context of British politics, the Labour and Conservative events are arch enemies. For them each to be on the identical aspect of an argument was very uncommon.
After the referendum, Labour voters felt responsible about voting for the union. They had thought it was proper, but it surely wasn’t comfy. They didn’t like their occasion working with the Conservatives. The SNP exploited this, to their credit score, saying, that is purported to be the progressive Labour occasion, they usually sided with the Conservatives to maintain the established order.
It was a really potent political message. Labour has been burned very badly from profitable the referendum. And let’s bear in mind it was Labour’s potential to steer left-of-centre voters to vote No that took the marketing campaign over the 50% line.
To put it in context, I used to be the occasion’s training spokesperson in 2014. In the fast aftermath of the referendum, we misplaced our chief (Johann Lamont). Then we misplaced one other chief (Jim Murphy), within the 2015 UK election, as a result of he misplaced his seat. The day earlier than that election, Labour had 41 members of parliament. The day after, it had one. I used to be deputy chief in that election, and everyone form of turned and checked out me. It was my flip to take over the mantle, which I did.
In the 2016 Scottish parliament election, after I was chief, we misplaced a 3rd of our seats. Not fairly the injury of 2015, however not vastly higher. And within the 2017 UK election – I’m nonetheless chief at this level – we began to make up some floor. We went from one MP to seven, however apparently, the seats we received have been seats with very heavy No votes in 2014. You might take a look at a seat in Scotland, discover out the referendum consequence, and take a reasonably good guess about who would win there within the UK election.
In that election in 2017, there have been one other 20 seats the place the bulk fell for the SNP MP from tens of hundreds of votes to below 1,000. Come the 2019 normal election, with so many close-run seats, everyone anticipated to see the SNP lose considerably once more, however Labour fell from seven seats again to 1. I used to be lengthy passed by this level, however we’re speaking about six or seven years of Labour being punished for its function within the 2014 referendum.
Labour was additionally punished by the Conservatives, who have been ruthless at saying you possibly can’t belief Labour with the union; they’re not as robust as we’re; not as reliable. They instructed I used to be tender on the union as a result of I favour a federalist answer. So the Conservatives stored on attacking Labour. The SNP have been attacking Labour saying they’ve offered you out. And that in some ways is why Labour is the shell of what it as soon as was: keep in mind it was the dominant power in Scotland for a lot of the latter half of the twentieth century.
In the present election marketing campaign the Conservatives’ essential message is vote for us to cease a second independence referendum. They’re additionally difficult the Labour occasion to type a unionist alliance. That’s a win-win for them. They know an alliance isn’t going to occur, and it reminds everyone who may be considering of voting Labour that they sided with the Conservatives in 2014.
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Q: The Scottish parliamentary system was designed to make it tougher for one occasion to get the bulk, however now the entire focus of this election is almost all. Why?
We have 129 members of the Scottish parliament, 73 of which characterize constituencies. The remaining 56 seats are made up of eight areas which every elect seven MSPs (members of the Scottish parliament) proportionately, utilizing our components referred to as the D’Hondt system.
This mixture of first previous the submit and proportional illustration means we’ve had a extra vibrant parliament than within the UK. We have Green politicians as a result of they arrive in by way of the checklist, for instance. This system is designed to provide coalitions and to cease outright majorities. It did that till 2011, when the SNP managed to interrupt the system with the power of their recognition and win a majority (in 2016, the occasion fell in need of a majority).
We’re now within the scenario the place individuals assume 2011 might be recreated, which is definitely fairly unfair on the SNP. The polls present the SNP constituency vote at round 50% – phenomenally excessive after 14 years in energy. They will, I feel, fall in need of an general majority, however can have a majority for independence if the Green vote delivers what it appears like delivering.
Q: Can you clarify the Alba occasion?
Alex Salmond (the previous first minister) has damaged away from the SNP and arrange Alba. He has taken a lot of individuals with him who could be described as elementary nationalists: individuals who need an independence referendum yesterday, undoubtedly right this moment, and never in two years’ time. They’re additionally very towards a few of the extra socially liberal insurance policies that the SNP have advocated below Sturgeon.
Salmond is asking individuals to vote SNP of their constituency vote and to vote for Alba on the checklist. His argument is that in case you vote Alba, we might get a “super-majority” scenario the place two-thirds of MSPs are supporters of independence. It would then be unimaginable for the UK authorities to refuse a second referendum, is how the argument goes.
An issue for Salmond, and he has many, is that he must get someplace between 6% and eight% of the checklist vote in each area to return members of the Scottish parliament in every. But the polls present that Alba is barely scraping 3%.
It’s doubtless that he’ll handle to get to six% within the north-east of Scotland. He has represented each the Banff & Buchan and Gordon constituencies in that area. He’s very well-known and well-liked there. That would elect him to the Scottish parliament, however in my opinion there might be no one else with him. That’s not a brilliant majority.
Q: What has led to the shift in independence assist and do you assume Yes would really win a second referendum?
Since January 2020 (on the time of the interview) there have been 25 opinion polls on the constitutional query. 22 have proven Yes forward, which may be very new. I feel there have been solely two polls within the run-up to 2014 that had Yes forward. There have been two latest exceptions the place No has began to climb once more, and folks recommend that may be to do with the success of the vaccine roll-out throughout the UK. But the explanation for individuals transferring from No to Yes is kind of nicely evidenced and it’s to do with Brexit.
I used to be carefully concerned within the polling within the 2014 referendum. The focusing on that we did broke Scotland down into 5 completely different classes of voters, with undecideds being a giant wedge within the center. That’s about 1 million Scots that we thought of may very well be persuaded by some means, and each the Yes and No campaigns closely targeted on them.
When you checked out who they have been and what they cared about, it boiled all the way down to financial safety. This is why a lot of the No marketing campaign targeted on arguments round what the foreign money in an impartial Scotland could be, who the lender of final resort could be, who would underpin pensions – all these large financial questions.
Those similar individuals are up within the air simply now, who might fall both manner, however what’s modified since 2014? These are individuals aged 25 to 45 who are inclined to dwell in city centres like Edinburgh, Glasgow or alongside the central belt. They are educated to school diploma degree largely.
They are socially centre-left however economically centrist or centre proper. By that I imply they’re supporters of homosexual marriage however don’t need excessive taxes. They are passionately, proudly pro-European and all voted Remain. And they’re very offended about leaving the EU.
If offered with a binary selection of an impartial Scotland in Europe with a progressive chief or staying within the UK led by Boris Johnson with a little-Britain Brexit mindset, they’re selecting the progressive impartial Scotland in Europe.
They may not prefer it. They definitely don’t like it. But it’s higher than what they’ve bought. In brief, Brexit has modified individuals’s minds.
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Q: If there’s a pro-independence majority, what are the choices obtainable to Nicola Sturgeon to carry a second referendum?
She has zero choices as a result of she’s dominated out UDI (common declaration of independence). I feel she’s proper to rule that out. The structure is reserved to the UK parliament, so solely the UK parliament can say sure to having a second referendum.
This all boils all the way down to mandates and morality. If there’s a majority for independence, you’ll count on the UK authorities, as in 2011, to say sure to a referendum. But if there’s a majority for independence within the election, you will notice the SNP demand the proper to carry a referendum, and Boris Johnson will I feel say no in a short time. The query is how lengthy that no will maintain for and the arguments that underpin it.
The very first thing they’ll say is, not throughout a pandemic. They additionally would possibly say, not not ever, you mentioned as soon as in a technology. That’s a riskier technique. And there’s a rising faculty of thought that if the bulk is large, if independence or a second referendum feels inevitable, it’s within the UK authorities’s pursuits to go now somewhat than delay for a protracted interval.
The UK authorities is presently spending quite a bit due to the pandemic. We’ve bought one of the crucial right-wing chancellors in my lifetime and he’s spending like a left-wing socialist. So there’s numerous cash coming to Scotland and plenty of means by which you’ll display the worth of the UK to Scotland.
In 18 months’ time, that spending has to cease. The UK authorities will then must resolve what taxes go up and what public sector saving selections or cuts must be made to steadiness the books. The longer you wait to carry a second referendum, the much less advantageous the circumstances for the UK authorities.
Q: How do you assume all the things will play out?
There’ll be plenty of Punch and Judy-style forwards and backwards. Every time the UK authorities says no, it should work within the SNP’s favour as a result of it reaffirms all the things they inform the voters in regards to the UK authorities not observing the need of the individuals of Scotland. Bear in thoughts that message has been hammered residence constantly for the reason that EU referendum.
Westminster considers itself a protector of the union and Boris Johnson describes himself because the minister for the union, but it surely by no means appears to quantity to very a lot. In the previous 12 months we’ve had the UK authorities announce a large decentralisation round UK authorities departments, together with to Scotland. Equally it has instructed placing Union Jacks on vaccine vials to remind folks that it’s the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine saving individuals proper now.
But these are superficial arguments for the union. I’ve at all times mentioned that to avoid wasting the union, you want an argument of the top and an argument of the guts. The No marketing campaign is excellent with arguments of the top. They’ll level to Scotland’s steadiness sheet and falling oil revenues and the truth that Scotland advantages significantly from public spending redistributing wealth generated largely in London and the south east.
An issue with federalism is that there isn’t one clear definition of what a federalist Britain would appear like. There might be completely different solutions in several components of the nation. Also, to what diploma would you devolve additional powers? Many would argue that the good thing about the UK is the flexibility to share the identical tax system to redistribute wealth, and a UK-wide social safety system to spend the receipts of that taxation.
Other individuals will say federalism ought to will let you have localised social safety and localised earnings tax-raising powers, and that’s completely legit. But it will lower the energy of my argument as to why the union is an effective factor. So there’s nobody frequent thread.
Q: To what extent are Catalonia and Quebec helpful comparisons?
I don’t profess to be an knowledgeable on Catalonia. But the comparisons aren’t significantly robust as a result of Catalonia is taken into account an space of considerable wealth and is a web contributor to Spain’s wider financial system. Unionists within the UK will argue the reverse is the case with Scotland – particularly with the oil value a fraction of what the 2013 white paper for Scottish independence was based mostly on.
There’s an enormous hole within the economics of Scottish independence, which leads lots of people to say Scotland’s too wee, too poor, too silly to be impartial. As I perceive the arguments in Catalonia, it’s the reverse.
I went to Quebec about two years in the past. The province had two independence referendums in succession after which simply appeared to have had sufficient. The large altering issue was that after the second referendum, the nationalist events began shedding actually closely.
People assume, I feel a bit lazily, that if there have been a second independence referendum in Scotland and the No marketing campaign received once more that someway assist for nationalism would additionally fall by means of the ground. I’m not wholly satisfied.
Q: What’s the tenor of the talk on this Scottish election and the way does it really feel to be watching somewhat than collaborating?
I’m completely having fun with it to be sincere. Five years in the past I used to be the one within the TV debates and working across the nation doing photograph calls. Now I’m an educational and I get to muse on it at leisure.
It doesn’t really feel just like the marketing campaign has been set alight but. I’m really anxious about turnout. I don’t assume there’s enormous consciousness that the elections are going down, due to the pandemic and the diploma to which COVID is monopolising the information.
This additionally means the tenor isn’t as poisonous and acrimonious as latest electoral contests in Scotland. I feel it’s prone to keep that manner, and one thing spectacular must occur within the subsequent ten days for the SNP to not win. The structure and COVID are the dominant points. COVID is basically about competence and that works largely to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit score.
The one sore level for her and her file is social care and aged individuals being discharged from hospitals into care houses throughout the pandemic with out being examined. That scandal doesn’t appear like hurting her simply but. But she’s dedicated to a public inquiry into selections she took throughout the pandemic, in order that might be a really tough situation for her in 12 months or so.
Kezia Dugdale is affiliated with the John Smith Centre which exists to make the constructive case for politics and public service.