British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to meet the devolved political leaders of Scotland and Wales to address the issue of post-COVID recovery in the aftermath of this week’s local elections across Great Britain, but results have only deepened existing divisions, especially between Westminster and Scotland.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scotland voted by 62 percent to 38 to remain in the European Union, but with the overall United Kingdom result being 52 percent voting to leave, there is widespread resentment in Scotland at being dragged out against the will of its people.
That result came two years after a referendum on Scottish independence that was rejected by 55 percent to 45, but subsequent events have fueled the independence movement.
Last week, the independence-supporting Scottish National Party won 64 out of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, one short of an outright majority, dealing a blow to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of securing a second referendum.
When asked if Westminster could resort to legal action to block any such move, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the government is “not going to go down the route of talking about independence or legal challenges or anything like that now”.
Sturgeon said any such move would be “absurd and completely outrageous”. She told the BBC: “It would mean a Conservative government had refused to respect the democratic wishes of the Scottish people and the outcome of a democratic election and tried to go to the Supreme Court to overturn Scottish democracy.”
In the Welsh Senedd election, the Labour Party also fell one seat short of an outright majority, winning 30 out of 60 seats.
Johnson has rejected the idea of another referendum, saying “ripping our country apart” would be “irresponsible and reckless”, and says he wants to meet the Scottish and Welsh leaders “to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them”.
Gove backed up Johnson’s comments, saying the recovery must be the top priority.
“We need to be laser-focused on making sure the vaccination program is a success and work on the recovery,” he said, rather than people “(taking) their eye off the ball by a protracted conversation about the constitution”.
Last week’s elections were the first since the 2019 general election, and also the first post-Brexit. They were for local councils, urban mayors and also one parliamentary seat, in Hartlepool, traditionally a safe Labour seat, where, for the first time, a Conservative candidate won.
That result saw Labour leader Keir Starmer heavily criticized for failing to project a clear image of what the party stands for, and led to a flurry of suggestions about how that perception could be changed.
One of his first responses was to remove party chair and campaigns coordinator Angela Rayner, a decision that went down badly with many party members, who said she was being made a scapegoat, although it is now being claimed she is being lined up for a “frontline” role in a reshuffled shadow cabinet.
Starmer also drew criticism for his timing, with the News overshadowing more positive results for Labour candidates, who retained the mayoralties of London, Liverpool and Greater Manchester, and won the West of England mayoralty, previously held by the Conservatives.