Sturgeon’s bombshell upends UK politics
In last Friday’s edition, we documented the trials and tribulations now facing Britain’s Conservative Party. This week brought news that further disrupts UK politics.
On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon dropped a political bombshell by announcing she’ll resign as Scotland’s first minister in the coming weeks. Much speculation has followed on why she’s quitting, but the larger question is what impact this will have on the ability of her party (the Scottish National Party) to deliver on the issue that has fueled her entire career: Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Beyond Scotland, the Sturgeon news creates a major new headache for Conservatives.
First, there’s the question of Scotland’s future. “Sturgeon's resignation is a big setback to the prospects of Scotland leaving the UK in the foreseeable future,” says Eurasia Group’s Mij Rahman. Recent polls signal that Scottish public support for independence has advanced little since 55% voted against it in a 2014 referendum. (Recent polls, here and here, show the “no” votes still lead by 6-12 points.) And that’s after Britain voted for a Brexit that 62% in Scotland opposed and after 13 years of rule by Conservatives, who remain unpopular across much of Scotland.
After the UK Supreme Court ruled last November that Scotland can’t hold another independence referendum without (highly unlikely) approval from the UK government, Sturgeon proposed a plan to use upcoming elections in Scotland as a de facto independence vote. But many within her party have warned that she underestimates the risk of a bad result that might set the independence movement back still further, and many will now see Sturgeon’s resignation as an admission that she can’t lead the movement across the finish for the foreseeable future.
What’s next for Sturgeon’s party? Probably a bitter fight to replace her, one that could divide support for the SNP over other issues. In the meantime, her absence will slow the demand for another vote. “It will be much harder to keep the independence flame burning without her at a time when support for a breakaway appears to be on the wane,” notes Rahman.
Good news for Labour
Beyond Scotland, Sturgeon’s departure and tougher days for the SNP might prove great news for the Labour Party, which already enjoys a sizeable polling lead ahead of national elections, which are expected next year. (UK elections must be held no later than January 2025.) Rahman says that “Labour’s consistently weak performance in Scotland has been the major reason” that some still doubt it can win a parliamentary majority.
Before the SNP became the dominant force in Scottish politics, it was Labour that won the lion’s share of support from Scottish voters in national elections. Today, the SNP holds 48 of Scotland’s seats in the UK parliament, and Labour holds just one. But the disarray within the SNP following Sturgeon’s exit and a possibly ugly battle to succeed her might give Labour a critical few extra seats in a national vote it’s already favored to win.