Party policies on independence
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The Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2021 will once again be dominated by the question of independence. This page provides a guide to what each party's manifesto will offer on the subject of Scotland's constitutional future.
The Scottish National Party's leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed in August that the party will once again be seeking a mandate in the 2021 elections to hold an independence referendum. This would be achieved by requesting a Section 30 order from the UK Government: it would be "utterly untenable and unsustainable", she said, for the UK Government to block such a request if it were mandated by the Scottish people.
However, such a mandate has been ignored by the UK Government since the last Scottish Parliamentary election in 2016, and there is an ongoing debate inside the SNP about whether the party should therefore seek a broader mandate at the 2021 election to pursue independence even if the UK Government does not consent to a referendum via a Section 30 order.
As part of this ongoing debate, MP Angus MacNeil and council leader Chris McEleny attempted to put before the SNP's November conference a 'Plan B' motion. This stated that the preferred route was a "consented referendum", and asked the Scottish Government to establish Scotland's legal competence to hold a referendum; if that were not established, the motion said, and no Section 30 order was forthcoming, then the party manifesto should declare the 2021 election to be a plebiscite for independence. However, such a 'Plan B' proposal has previously been opposed by Sturgeon, and this time the conference business managers refused to allow it to be presented.
The Conservatives have said they will explicitly oppose independence at the 2021 Scottish elections, and will oppose the holding of an independence referendum regardless of the election result. Conservative Scottish Secretary Alister Jack did indicate in November 2019 that it was possible for a "democratic mandate" for an indyref to be won at the 2021 election, but later, under pressure from the party leadership, he walked back that statement.
In recent years the Scottish Conservatives have made opposition to an independence referendum a major part of their electoral campaign, splashing "NO to Indyref 2" on the front-page of their 2019 General Election manifesto. That stance is likely to continue into the 2021 election.
Labour is opposed to Scottish independence, but has prevaricated more than the Conservatives have on Scotland's right to a referendum. At times they have appeared to indicate that they would not stand in the way of a referendum if there were a Scottish Parliamentary majority for one, but current UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has refused to say whether he would oppose an independence referendum if the SNP won a majority at the 2021 Scottish elections.
Scottish Labour has confirmed that its manifesto for the 2021 Scottish elections will oppose an independence referendum, and that the party will instead support "home rule, devolution and democratic advance," according to Scottish party leader Richard Leonard.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie committed his party once more to opposing independence and indyref, saying they would not support it "at any point", despite opposing Brexit and supporting a second EU referendum.
Asked if the SNP would have a mandate for a second independence referendum if they won a majority at the Scottish elections, Rennie said: "Let's not get into that space."
The Scottish Greens are a pro-independence party that has consistently advocated for an independence referendum, and they argue that a vote for the Greens will help establish a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. The party has supported the SNP in the Scottish Parliament when it has sought a section 30 order, and has sometimes argued that the SNP should be pushing harder for indyref to happen.
There are a number of other parties and coalitions which do not currently have any representatives in the Scottish Parliament, but have indicated that they will be standing in the 2021 Scottish elections.
The Alliance for Unity party, specifically opposed to independence and led by former MP George Galloway, has been established for the election. British nationalist parties UKIP and the Brexit Party are also expected to stand.
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