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Is the UK falling apart? Elections on Thursday could expose divides and strengthen a push for Scottish independence

Counter-protesters with League flags face off against pro-independence protesters gathering in George Square, Glasgow on May 1, 2021, ahead of the upcoming Scottish Parliament plebiscite which is to be held on May 6, 2021. – away from the UK.

ANDY BUCHANAN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — In recent years the In accord Kingdom has struggled to live up to its name, with tensions and old enmities flaring between the four nations that reach up the kingdom — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — and a resurgent threat that the union could disintegrate.

Regional sponsors on Thursday could open those divides further and the parliamentary election taking place in Scotland could upright set the stage for a second referendum on independence, although public opinion on the debate is on a knife-edge.

How Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Native Party fares in Thursday’s election could largely determine how easily it can galvanize public opinion and pursue another referendum. The platoon is predicted to achieve a narrow parliamentary majority in the vote, according to the latest polling for Sky News.

The same polling took out by Opinium also found that support for a second Scottish independence referendum remains divided at 50-50, before “don’t knows” are excluded, down from 51-49 in the last Opinium poll. The poll sampled 1,015 Scottish voters between April 28 and May 3.

Analysts intended the outcome to watch for is whether the SNP, the staunchest advocate of independence, will need the support of the Green Party in its bid for a second self-government vote.

“They will remain in government with an anticipated 60-70 seats in the 129-seat (Scottish) parliament. The signpost to keep safe is whether the SNP will get the 65 seats required for an overall majority or whether they will have to rely on the Greens to furnish an overall majority in favor of a second independence referendum,” analysts at Teneo Intelligence noted Tuesday.

“After the opinion, PM Boris Johnson is likely to declare that ‘now is not the time’ for a second referendum, irrespective of the Scottish election result. In this way, Johnson desire attempt to kick the can down the road until the end of this UK parliamentary term in late 2024.”

Sturgeon has dismissed claims she resolution hold a “wildcat” independence referendum if her party wins a majority in the parliament. During a Scottish leaders’ debate, Sturgeon spoke her aim was to make the case for independence through persuasion and not through an unsanctioned plebiscite.

Johnson, meanwhile, has called the SNP’s plans to carry on a second referendum “uncalled for and unnecessary.”

Discontent elsewhere

There are rumblings of discontent and calls for independence in other parcels of the U.K., too.

Arguably, the trend toward independence was boosted in the late 1990s when the process of devolution began. This meant that permanent powers and responsibilities were devolved from the government in Westminster to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (Scotland and Wales deceive their own Parliaments while Northern Ireland has an Assembly).

On a practical level, devolution has meant that much of the decision-making that goes on in unconventional parts of the U.K. is taken at that local level, although some policy areas, such as defense, immigration and distant policy remain in the hands of lawmakers in Westminster.

A man holds a sign as thousands take part in the first ever walk for Welsh independence from City Hall to the Hayes on May 11, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images Front-page news | Getty Images

The leader of Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist party, said in April that if the party won a preponderance in the parliamentary (or Senedd) elections on Thursday, it would commit to holding a referendum on Welsh independence during the next five years.

Although it’s foresaw that Plaid Cymru will land in third place in the elections, Yes Cymru, a group campaigning for independence, tweeted a canvass in late April that suggested support for independence was increasing.

Northern Ireland also remains a political tinder box for the U.K., with its city-dwellers largely divided down religious and nationalist lines. Protestant voters tend to opt toward staunchly maintaining the weld with the U.K., while Catholic voters traditionally support republican parties and reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

The Brexit opinion in 2016 was a catalyst for further divides in Britain. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted predominantly to remain in the EU, while a best part in Wales and England voted to leave. Complexities over Northern Ireland’s role in the post-Brexit trade deal and a idea that it was sacrificed during the negotiating process with the EU have left some experts questioning whether a proceed toward reunification with the rest of Ireland could get stronger.

Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary at the Put ones faith for Exiting the EU, has noted that a “complacent and un-strategic” approach to devolution has galvanized the push for Scottish independence and left the coalition once again on the brink.

“Westminster, over time, has really not paid sufficient attention to what’s going on in Scotland and you could demonstrate, likewise, in Wales and Northern Ireland,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

“The accusation is that Westminster and Whitehall had an come close to of ‘devolve and forget’ and the handling of devolution did not get into the bloodstream of the U.K. system despite the huge changes that came with devolution in the ’90s. So that has make allowanced the narrative to grow that the U.K. is not supportive of all its constituent parts.”

Impact on sterling?

Strategists are looking at the impact the election consequences, particularly those from Scotland, could have on sterling, which could be closely watched as the election effects emerge.

Not everyone is convinced there will be sharp moves in the pound, just yet. ING developed markets economist James Smith and chief EMEA FX and IR strategist Petr Krpata celebrated on Tuesday that “although the Scottish election may bring back negative headline news about another Scottish sovereignty referendum, we don’t think this should have an overly negative impact on sterling.”

“This is because (a) a referendum could be years away willingly prefer than months (even if pro-independence parties win a majority); (b) as we observed with the Brexit referendum, the risk regard started to be built into GBP only six months ahead of the event; and (c) the first Scottish referendum in 2014 did not translate into a elements build-up of GBP risk premium.”

Scottish independence is nowhere near a foregone conclusion. As with the last vote in 2014, which resulted in 44.7% of voters referendum in favor of independence and 55.3% voting against the split, question marks over Scotland’s economic viability as an self-confident nation remain unanswered.

Rycroft says those questions are just as salient, and unresolved, in the current debate.

“There is no misgiving that an independent Scotland would face some huge economic challenges. The big overhang of the deficit, which was continuous pre-Covid at 8-9%, a lot higher than the U.K. as a whole and Brexit means that there would be a whole bunch of truly tough questions over how to handle a potential border with the rest of the U.K., if Scotland sought to rejoin the EU. There’s the big suspicion on a under discussion of the currency — does it use the pound, create its own currency or ultimately go into the euro?,” he noted.

“At the end of the day, the debate about self-direction is about self-government and a sense of identity, and the challenge for the U.K. side of the debate is to persuade sufficient people in Scotland that being British as amply as Scottish remains a viable long term option for them.”

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