Is there an independence movement in England?

New start for Scotland's independence?

The Scottish Declaration of Independence is not exactly squeamish in its choice of words: "As long as even one hundred of us stay alive, we will never, under whatever conditions, be forced under English rule," says the Arbroath Declaration, which was made before exactly 700 Years to Pope John XXII. was sent to Avignon.

The big anniversary celebrations in April fell victim to the corona pandemic; Photos from late August only show a few amateur actors posing in period costume at Arbroath Abbey. One can assume that today's rulers in England could do without the big stage for the document - after all, the demand for independence in the north of the United Kingdom is being made more emphatically than it has been for a long time.

An actor poses outside Arbroath Abbey on the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

On September 18, 2014, 55 percent voted against the detachment of Scotland in a referendum. But the Scots have a more positive attitude towards the European Union than the British from other parts of the country - after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 there was already a brief majority in favor of an independent Scotland. Since May of this year, all pollsters have been painting a stable picture that a majority of Scots want to turn away from the Brexit motherland.

Corona boosts independence

"It seems that the coronavirus events have influenced the debate about Scottish independence," said Jess Sargeant of the UK think tank Institute for Government. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is zigzagging in the fight against the virus and is constantly making new U-turns with individual measures. The death rate in the UK is higher than in any other European country.

Some London measures, such as short-time working benefits of up to 80 percent of wages, also benefit the Scots. However, fighting the pandemic is partly the responsibility of the regions, so that in Scotland measures from Edinburgh largely apply. "The coronavirus has given the Scottish government a platform like a national government," Sargeant said in an interview with DW. "This may have led more people to see independence as a realistic project."

Most recently, the government of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had to tighten the corona measures in western parts of the country around the Glasgow region: private meetings with members of other households have been prohibited since the beginning of September. However, from Jess Sargeant's point of view, the rising corona numbers would only have a negative impact on the independence question if England at the same time got the pandemic much better under control. "But it doesn't look like it at the moment - Corona cases are rising across the UK," Sargeant said.

An election - and a referendum?

The political issue of independence is almost completely embodied in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish National Party (SNP) - which has gained tens of thousands of members since 2014. Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the SNP has made further significant gains in surveys: an absolute majority seems conceivable for the Scottish parliamentary election next May.

Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament

A week ago, Sturgeon announced its intention to bring a new independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament by then. However, Boris Johnson's government must approve the bill before the Scottish Parliament can vote on it - and Johnson has already spoken out against a referendum several times. "Great Britain has so far argued that there is no need for a new referendum because the majority voted no in 2014," says political scientist Sargeant. "But a strong election result for the SNP in May will make it (Johnson) harder to argue like that." So little should happen until May - unless the SNP appeals to the Supreme Court. However, it is uncertain that the Scots would win there.

First carry out the Brexit

Before that, however, there is another fateful event on the British calendar: the transition phase with Brexit ends at the turn of the year. After Johnson announced in the most recent round of negotiations with EU representatives that he would no longer accept parts of his handwritten exit deal and Brussels insisted on adherence to the treaty, the United Kingdom is heading for the major economic upheavals of a "no deal" scenario.

The British Parliament has actually already ratified the divorce treaty, according to which British Northern Ireland continues to comply with most EU regulations and tariffs between Northern Ireland and Great Britain so that there are no hard borders on the Irish island. "We'll have to wait and see what that means for Scotland - Brexit remains an issue that divides," Jess Sargeant told DW.

It would be obvious that a hard Brexit could induce the majority of the EU-friendly Scots to rely first on independence and then on re-entry as the 28th EU member state. Nicola Sturgeon recently said that Brexit reinforces "the desire for Scotland to become independent, shape its own future and positively do its part for Europe and the world". From Sargeant's point of view, that would be anything but certain: "An independent Scotland as part of the EU would mean that infrastructure would be needed on the border with Great Britain. In that case, the SNP would have to drill thick boards."