How constitution has dominated Holyrood election campaign during pandemic

Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor
·3-min read

The 2021 Scottish Parliament election has been dominated by the constitution, despite taking place during the coronavirus pandemic.

The launch of the new pro-independence Alba Party, led by former first minister Alex Salmond, proved to be the first major talking point in the campaign.

Mr Salmond launched the party, which is only fielding candidates on the regional list section of the ballot, with the aim of winning a “supermajority” in Parliament for independence.

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But his return to frontline politics came shortly after a very public dispute with his successor, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Details of the breakdown in their relationship were revealed for all to see when the pair separately gave evidence to a Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Mr Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon made clear she does not think her former boss – who was cleared of a series of sexual assault allegations in March 2020 – is a fit and proper person to stand for election.

She has also been insistent that the SNP will not work with Alba after the election.

For Ms Sturgeon, the election has in part been focused on her record of leadership during the pandemic.

The breakdown in the relationship between Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond was laid bare just weeks before the election campaign began (Andrew Milligan/PA)
The breakdown in the relationship between Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond was laid bare just weeks before the election campaign began (Andrew Milligan/PA)

However as Scotland looks to recover from the virus that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people north of the border, she has insisted independence is key to building a better nation.

The SNP and the Scottish Greens have argued that the powers independence would bring over areas such as the economy and employment could be crucial in the recovery.

Ms Sturgeon has refused to say exactly when a second vote on independence could be held – saying only it should take place after the immediate health crisis is over and not before the end of 2023.

But pro-UK parties Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have accused Ms Sturgeon of planning another independence vote in the midst of the pandemic – something they insist would damage Scotland’s economy and recovery.

Scottish Labour, under new leader Anas Sarwar, and the Liberal Democrats have both focused their campaigns on the need to build a recovery from the pandemic.

In a similar fashion, the Scottish Conservatives have urged voters to back them in a bid to prevent the SNP from getting a majority at Holyrood.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far refused to give the green light for a second independence referendum (Rui Viera/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far refused to give the green light for a second independence referendum (Rui Viera/PA)

If the SNP wins a majority on Thursday, either on its own or with the help of the Scottish Greens, Ms Sturgeon will certainly use this to push for another ballot on Scotland’s place in the UK.

And in an election in which the SNP is all but guaranteed to win, the biggest question is perhaps what comes next for Scotland after the votes are counted.

Will there be a majority of MSPs in favour of independence? If so, what will Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reaction be?

Ms Sturgeon has been adamant that his refusal to grant a second independence referendum will crumble if there is a Holyrood majority for such a vote, but time will tell if this is just wishful thinking on her part.