Counter-protesters with Union flags compete against independence protesters who gather in George Square in Glasgow on May 1, 2021, ahead of the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections on May 6, 2021. – outside the UK.

ANDY BUCHANAN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – Over the past few years the UK has struggled to live up to its name. Tensions and old hostilities between the kingdom’s four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and a resurgent threat that the union could pose are crumbling.

Regional votes on Thursday could open these divisions further, and the general election in Scotland could even set the stage for a second referendum on independence, although public opinion on the debate is up-to-date.

How Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party fares in Thursday’s elections could largely determine how easily it can shake public opinion and hold another referendum. According to the latest poll for Sky News, the party is expected to achieve a narrow parliamentary majority in the vote.

The same poll conducted by Opinium also found that support for a second Scottish independence referendum remains split at 50-50 once “don’t know” is ruled out, from 51-49 in the last Opinium poll. The poll polled 1,015 Scottish voters between April 28th and May 3rd.

Analysts said the outcome was whether the SNP, the staunchest advocate for independence, needed the Greens’ support in their bid for a second independence vote.

“They are expected to remain in government with an estimated 60 to 70 seats in parliament with 129 seats (Scottish). The signpost is whether the SNP will get the 65 seats required for a total majority, or whether they will have to rely on the seats . ” The Greens will provide a total majority for a second independence referendum, “said analysts from Teneo Intelligence on Tuesday.

“After the vote, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will likely declare that” now is not the time “for a second referendum, regardless of the Scottish election result, and that way Johnson will try to bring the can to its knees by the end of the year for this British one Parliament period at the end of 2024. “

Sturgeon has denied claims that she will hold a “wild” independence referendum if her party wins a majority in parliament. During a debate among Scottish leaders, Sturgeon said their goal was to advocate independence by conviction rather than an unauthorized referendum.

Johnson has now described the SNP’s plans to hold a second referendum as “inappropriate and unnecessary”.

Dissatisfaction elsewhere

There is dissatisfaction and demands for independence in other parts of the UK as well.

The trend towards independence was arguably strengthened in the late 1990s when the process of decentralization began. This meant that certain powers and responsibilities were transferred from the Westminster government to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (Scotland and Wales have their own parliaments while Northern Ireland has an assembly).

On a practical level, decentralization has resulted in much of the decisions made in different parts of the UK being made locally, although some policy areas such as defense, immigration and foreign affairs remain in the hands of the legislature in Westminster.

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

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The leader of Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist party, said in April that if the party won a majority in Thursday’s general election (or Senedd) it would commit to holding a referendum on Welsh independence over the next five years.

Although Plaid Cymru is expected to finish third in the elections, Yes Cymru, a pro-independence group, tweeted a poll in late April indicating that support for independence is growing.

Northern Ireland remains a political tinder box for Great Britain too, whose citizens are largely divided into religious and nationalist lines. Protestant voters tend to consistently maintain union with Britain, while Catholic voters traditionally support Republican parties and reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

The 2016 Brexit vote was a catalyst for further divisions in the UK. Most of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, while a majority in Wales and England voted to leave. The complexity of Northern Ireland’s role in the post-Brexit trade deal and the perception that it was sacrificed during the negotiation process with the EU has made some experts question whether a push towards reunification with the rest of Ireland could get stronger.

Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary of the Department for Leaving the EU, has noted that a “complacent and non-strategic” approach to decentralization has fueled the drive for Scottish independence and once again left the union on the sidelines.

“Westminster really hasn’t paid enough attention to what’s going on in Scotland over time, and one could argue in Wales and Northern Ireland too,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe on Wednesday.

“The charge is that Westminster and Whitehall had a ‘Devolve and Forget’ approach and that dealing with devolution did not get into the bloodstream of the British system despite the great changes that went with devolution in the 1990s. that Britain does not support all of its constituent parts. “

Impact on the pound sterling?

Strategists are studying the impact of the election results, particularly from Scotland, on the pound sterling, which could be closely watched once the election results become known.

Not everyone is convinced yet that there will be sharp moves in the pound. ING economist James Smith and EMEA FX and IR chief strategist Petr Krpata stated Tuesday that “while the Scottish elections may make negative headlines about yet another Scottish independence referendum, we do not think it is too much should have a negative impact on the pound sterling. “

“This is because (a) a referendum could be years rather than months away (even if the parties win a majority for independence); (b) as we noted in the Brexit referendum, the risk premium has already been set in £ 6 built in months before the event; and (c) the first Scottish referendum in 2014 did not result in a significant increase in the GBP risk premium. “

Scottish independence is by no means a given. As in the last vote in 2014, when 44.7% of the electorate voted for independence and 55.3% against split, questions about Scotland’s economic viability as an independent nation remain unanswered.

Rycroft says these questions are equally important and unresolved in the current debate.

“There is no doubt that an independent Scotland would face major economic challenges. The large deficit overhang, which was 8-9% before Covid, was much larger than the UK as a whole, and Brexit means that it is Fall would be. ” There are a number of really tough questions about how to deal with a potential border with the rest of the UK if Scotland tries to rejoin the EU. It’s the big question of currency: does it use the pound, does it create its own currency, or ultimately go into the euro? “he remarked.

“Ultimately, the independence debate is about self-government and a sense of identity and the challenge for the UK side of the debate is to convince enough people in Scotland that being both British and Scottish is still viable for the long-term option you. “