Scottish Parliament election: 2021 may prove to be a momentous year for Scotland after the misery of Covid – Ian Swanson
As we bid an unfond farewell to 2020 and prepare to cross the threshold of a new year, everyone is hoping 2021 will see an end to the terrors and tragedies of Covid-19 and, thanks to the roll-out of vaccines, our lives will soon no longer be dominated by the virus and its ramifications.
Politicians will also be wanting to put the coronavirus crisis behind them and focus on other issues. And right from the start of the new year, they will have the Holyrood election very much in mind.
But if Covid does begin to recede and the election on May 6 produces, as forecast, a majority of pro-independence MSPs, that may turn out to be just Scotland’s first vote of 2021. Nicola Sturgeon has talked of holding an independence referendum in the “early part of the parliament” and has not ruled out next year.
Legislation has been put in place to allow the election to be delayed if necessary due to Covid and for voting to be spread over two days to allow for physical distancing. It is hoped neither of these moves will be needed, but there may still be an increase in people opting to vote by post.
Opinion polls suggest a comfortable SNP win. The less certain element is how all the other parties will fare. Can the Tories hang on to most of their 31 seats despite the departure of Ruth Davidson and the unpopularity in Scotland of Boris Johnson?
Is there a chance that Labour could overtake the Tories to regain its previous place as the main opposition party at Holyrood? A couple of recent polls showed them edging into second place, but the picture is not consistent.
And could the Greens and/or the Lib Dems win extra seats which could affect the balance?
A Scotsman/Savanta ComRes poll earlier this month showed the SNP way ahead with leads of 35 per cent in the constituency vote and 22 per cent in the regional vote. Projections suggest that would give the SNP 71 MSPs, with the Conservatives down eight to 23, Labour down five to 19, the Greens up from six to 11 and the Lib Dems unchanged with five.
The Greens, as a pro-independence party, might expect to do well in the current climate. But in Lothian, the party may well take a hit following the decision of the highly respected Andy Wightman to resign as a Green MSP.
Mr Johnson has insisted so far he will veto any move to hold a second independence referendum, but Ms Sturgeon believes a decisive election victory will force him to change his mind.
The Scotsman/Savanta ComRes poll found opinion on independence split 58 per cent Yes to 42 per cent No (once don’t knows are excluded) – but of course that’s before the rival campaigns start putting their case to the voters and before the politicians are put on the spot over just what independence or remaining in the UK will mean.
The reality of Brexit may increase support for independence even further, but uncertainties over issues like the currency may also influence people’s decisions.
The future is never certain, and right now it looks particularly unpredictable, but 2021 has at least the potential to turn out to be a momentous year.