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Scots indy campaign likely to see hope in Sinn Fein success

Sturgeon acknowledging conference
Nicola Sturgeon wants referendum (pic: Terry Murden)

Nicola Sturgeon’s hope of holding a referendum on independence next year is supported by as few as a quarter of the electorate, though her campaign may gain encouragement from the rise of the nationalists in Northern Ireland.

One poll published today in The Sunday Times says only a quarter (24%) of people in Scotland believe a vote on leaving the UK should be held next year, while a second poll by Survation for the Scotland in Union movement puts the number at (29%).

In spite of the weak level of support for a referendum in 2023 Nicola Sturgeon is to launch a fresh push for independence within weeks. This is based on 55% support for a second referendum within five years.

The Sunday Times poll has support for independence itself unchanged since November at 49% among those likely to vote and when undecideds are excluded, with support for the Union at 51%. Taking undecideds into account, 47% of those likely to vote back independence, 49% are opposed and 5% don’t know.

While Ms Sturgeon is still publicly pushing for a second referendum by the end of next year, few senior nationalists consider such a prospect to be possible in the face of firm UK government opposition.

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The SNP has been encouraged by winning 453 seats in the local elections, 22 more than in 2017, and well ahead of Labour which finished second with 282 councillors (up 20), overtaking the Conservatives who suffered big losses on 214 ( down 63). 

But the Survation poll shows that even among those who backed the SNP in last year’s Holyrood election, 36% said there should not be a second referendum next year.

And asked what the Scottish Government’s top three priorities should be, only one-in-ten said an independence referendum – far behind the NHS (61%), economy and jobs (48%), Covid-19 recovery (30%), education (26%), and housing (21%).

Survation polled more than 1,000 adults in Scotland for pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union in the run-up to last week’s council elections.

Using the question ‘should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?’, 58% of respondents said they would vote to remain and 42% said they would vote to leave.

More than a quarter (28%) of Yes voters in 2014 said they would now vote to remain part of the UK and they were asked why they had changed their mind – with 72% stating the stability of the UK economy was a reason, while 70% selected Nicola Sturgeon’s performance as First Minister, and 66% said it was the importance of protecting public services.

Sinn Fein’s triumph boosts nationalists

Future polls may be coloured by the historic vote in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein’s success means a nationalist party has been elected as the largest at Stormont, in terms of seats, for the first time in 101 years since Northern Ireland came into existence.

Ms Sturgeon congratulated Sinn Fein on a “historic result”.  She tweeted: “I wish Michelle & her colleagues – & all Northern Ireland’s elected representatives – the very best for what comes next.”

Sinn Féin remains committed to holding a referendum on Irish unification, and its manifesto called on the British and Irish governments to set a date for a border poll.

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On Friday party leader Mary Lou McDonald said planning for a unity referendum would come within a “five-year framework”.

The rules around holding a referendum are set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

It says the UK government’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland can hold a referendum at any time. In addition it says he or she should call one if it appears a majority of voters would vote in favour of Irish unification.

Sinn Féin is likely to argue that things are moving in that direction, but unionists will argue that the nationalist vote share has gone down since 2017 and that shows there is no desire for a border poll.

Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab: warning to EU on Brexit protocol

Opinion polls have also not shown a majority in favour of a united Ireland, with 58% of the province voted for parties that do not support constitutional change. 

But Sinn Fein’s victory has prompted the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab to warn the EU that action on the Brexit protocol cannot be ‘put off’.

Mr Raab renewed the threat to scrap the divorce terms unilaterally following what would once have been an unthinkable victory for the Republicans – with Michelle O’Neill now set to be nominated as First Minister.

Talks between the UK government and the EU have been stalled for months, and Brussels has insisted it will not give more ground.

Mr Raab accuse the EU of being ‘particularly dogmatic’ and said the Government would take ‘whatever measures are necessary’.

He told Sky News: “We will deal with the situation, we will take whatever measures are necessary to protect the economic as well as the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Raab added: “If anything, the outcome in Northern Ireland from those elections makes it clear it can’t be put off.”



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