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Pro-Independence Parties Win A Majority In U.K. Elections


A significant victory for those in Scotland who may want to break with the United Kingdom. Pro-independence parties have won a majority in Scottish parliamentary elections. The Scottish National Party, which won almost half the seats, says it will call for a referendum on Scottish independence. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson opposes such a vote, setting the stage for a potential battle over the future of Scotland. NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, is just back from covering the election there, and he joins us now. Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Frank, walk us through the results and what they mean.

LANGFITT: Sure. The Scottish National Party dominates Scottish politics, Lulu. They won a resounding victory, but they fell just one seat short of a majority. The Green Party also supports independence. They won eight seats. So there's clearly a majority for independence in the Parliament now. Last night, Nicola Sturgeon - she's Scotland's first minister, and she leads the Scottish Nationals - she was pretty defiant.


FIRST MINISTER NICOLA STURGEON: It is the will of the country. And given that outcome, there is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or indeed for anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Boris Johnson is against a referendum. Considering that one delivered Brexit, something he always embraced, what is his argument against it?

LANGFITT: Well, he says that in the current context - and he's talking about the pandemic and the economy here - that it's, quote, "irresponsible and reckless" and needs to get through this very difficult period in the United Kingdom before even thinking about this. Well, Nicola Sturgeon agrees with him. And what would happen is she would have to introduce a bill for a referendum in the Scottish Parliament. It would certainly pass, but it wouldn't be legal unless the British Parliament approved it. And Johnson could challenge this in court. And we're talking a little ways down the road here - maybe next year, the following year. That's a tricky thing for Johnson because if he's seen as trying to block the democratic wishes of Scotland, that's only going to drive up support for independence. At the same time, he doesn't want to go down in history as the prime minister who actually presided over the breakup of the U.K.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. Frank, the Scots, though, held an independence referendum - we should remember - in 2014. I believe 55% voted against it. I mean, it didn't pass.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why are we seeing this issue again so soon?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it's interesting. When you go back to 2014, it was billed as a once-in-a-generation referendum. Some Scots voted against independence at the time because they were convinced it was the only way to stay in the EU. Then Boris Johnson led the successful Brexit campaign, which you were just referring to. Scots, who voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU - some of them felt very betrayed by this. And they want a chance to vote again to actually leave the U.K. and then, hopefully, rejoin the European Union, which, of course, would be challenging and would take a long time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any sense of how another referendum would go considering the results of this election?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's very hard to say. Right now, I think it's about 50/50 in the country. It - so it would be very risky for both Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson to engage in this right now. And part of that is there's just a lot of crisis fatigue in the whole country. Everybody wants to get through the economic situation, get through the pandemic. And, of course, timing is everything in politics. So I think Sturgeon wants to be clear that she could actually win it before she wants to try to bring a referendum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Beyond the U.K., what are the stakes here?

LANGFITT: I think they're really big. The U.K. is a really important ally of the United States. Brexit, as you know and we've covered, created several years of political chaos here. Scottish independence would also suck up a great deal of energy in the United Kingdom - would force the country to look inward again. And this comes at a time where the U.S., the U.K., and the West are very challenged, particularly by an authoritarian China, a more assertive Russia. And a fractured U.K. would just only work to their advantage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you very much.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS'S "BLURRED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.