Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections

Bristol, England
Aerial view of Bristol, England (Shutterstock)

Scotland’s will be the most closely watched election, but voters across the UK go to the polls on Thursday.

In addition to the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, all sixty seats in the Welsh Assembly, all 25 seats in the London Assembly, thirteen mayoralties and thousands of seats in 143 English councils are contested.

There is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool, which has voted Labour since the constituency was created in 1974.

Polls opened at 7 AM local time and will close at 10 PM. Due to coronavirus restrictions, many localities won’t start counting votes until Friday. Full results aren’t expected until the weekend.

Here are three things to watch: Read more “Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections”

The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Manu Bravo)

Scotland’s ruling National Party (SNP) has staked a second independence referendum on the outcome of Thursday’s election. If separatists defend their majority in the Scottish Parliament — in addition to the SNP, the Greens favor independence — they propose to hold another vote even over the objections of London.

Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against dissolving the United Kingdom in 2014. Nationalists argue Brexit has changed the calculation. 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in 2016. They were overruled by majorities in England and Wales. Polls found majorities in Scotland for leaving the UK and rejoining the EU through 2020 and early 2021. Unionists have recently closed the gap. But the SNP is still faraway in first place in election polls with up to 50 percent support.

There are many arguments for and against independence, and each one could be debated at length. I’ll summarize what I find to be the most persuasive ones. Read more “The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence”

Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”

Should Scotland Become Independent?

Buachaille Etive Mòr Scotland
Cottage at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mòr in the Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Max Hermansson)

Scottish public opinion is moving in favor of independence with several recent polls giving the separatists a 1- to 7-point lead.

Independence lost in the 2014 referendum by 10 points, but Britain’s exit from the European Union, and the growing likelihood that it will end the year without a trade deal to replace its access to the European single market, has many Scots wondering if they might not be better off leaving the UK in order to rejoin to EU.

The answer is probably still no. Read more “Should Scotland Become Independent?”

Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself

The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England
The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

Britain’s Conservatives won the election this month, but it may come at the expense of the union of the United Kingdom their party — which has “Unionist” in its name — is sworn to protect.

Conservatives neglected their responsibility to the union by calling the EU referendum in the first place. David Cameron hoped to resolve an intraparty dispute over Europe. He ended up dividing the four nations of the UK. Majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. They were outvoted by majorities in England and Wales.

Rather than attempt a “soft” Brexit that might appease Scots and prevent either a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, Cameron’s successors Theresa May and Boris Johnson negotiated a hard break: leaving the European customs union and single market in order to regain full control over immigration and economic policy.

The price could be Scottish independence and Irish unification, making Britain smaller than it has been in three centuries — and making a mockery of Brexiteers’ aspiration to lead a “Global Britain” outside the EU. Read more “Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself”

Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014 (byronv2)

Scotland’s National Party is arguing for a second independence referendum after gaining seats in Britain’s general election on Thursday.

Party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes she has a mandate and Britain’s imminent departure from the EU changes the situation from 2014, when Scots rejected independence 55 to 45 percent.

She is right on the first point, but not yet on the second. Read more “Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait”

Northern Irish, Scots Would Rather Stay in EU Than UK

Flags of the United Kingdom and Scotland in Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands, July 3, 2014
Flags of the United Kingdom and Scotland in Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands, July 3, 2014 (Julien Carnot)

Without an agreement to regulate Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, a majority of Northern Irish and Scots would rather remain in the bloc than in the United Kingdom.

Even with the deal Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated, which provides for a two-year transition out of the EU and avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a majority of Scots would prefer to break away from the UK. Read more “Northern Irish, Scots Would Rather Stay in EU Than UK”

Germany Approves Russian Pipeline, Five Stars Call for Deal with League

Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015 (Kremlin)

German regulators have approved the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would help Russia bypass Ukraine and its other former satellite states in Eastern Europe.

Germany and the Netherlands, the two main beneficiaries of the pipeline, are virtually isolated in Europe in their support for it.

Nord Stream 2 would double the capacity of the existing Baltic Sea pipeline, but it makes no economic sense. Russia uses perhaps 60 percent of its existing pipeline capacity. The only reason for adding a connection is that Russia wants to be able to blackmail Ukraine without interrupting its gas supply to the rest of Europe.

Regulators in Denmark, Finland and Sweden still need to sign off on the project. Read more “Germany Approves Russian Pipeline, Five Stars Call for Deal with League”

If Northern Ireland Gets Special Deal, London and Scotland Want One Too

View of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011
View of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011 (Wikimedia Commons/Ronnie Macdonald)

The leaders of London and Scotland have called for special status if Northern Ireland is somehow partially exempt from Brexit.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, tweets:

Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and a similar deal here could protect tens of thousands of jobs.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, agrees:

If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.

A majority of Scots also to stay in the EU last year. Like Londoners, they were overruled by majorities in favor of Brexit in England and Wales. Read more “If Northern Ireland Gets Special Deal, London and Scotland Want One Too”