SNP pledges to push for independence if it wins a majority in next election

ABERDEEN — Scotland’s pro-independence SNP will claim a mandate to open negotiations on independence if it wins a majority of seats in next year’s election.

The Scottish National Party is struggling to retain its recent dominance of Scotland’s electoral politics in the face of a resurgent Scottish Labour Party and the chaos — and arrests — that greeted Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden resignation as SNP leader in February. 

As they gathered for their first annual conference under new leader Humza Yousaf, the SNP agreed on a new strategy for their ultimate goal of independence — one that will see them claim winning a majority of the Scottish seats in Westminster is enough to trigger negotiations to “give democratic effect” to Scotland becoming an independent country.

Whether that means a referendum — as the party lost in 2014 — or negotiations to directly bring about independence, has been left deliberately vague by the SNP leadership.

Either way, both U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer have indicated they would continue to rebuff all referendum demands from the SNP, pointing to promises from some Yes figures that the last referendum was a “once in a generation vote.”

Previously, Yousaf said there was “no route” to independence without building sustained majority support. POLITICO’s Poll of Polls aggregator gives No a narrow lead over Yes in any potential referendum.

The new strategy — which was overwhelmingly approved by members after a contentious debate in Aberdeen — will see the SNP go into the next general election, expected in 2024, pledging that a vote for the party is a vote for independence. 

If the party wins at least 29 of the 57 Scottish seats up for grabs, according to the plan, the SNP would claim this as enough of a mandate for separation. The party hopes that the Westminster government would then be pressured into offering at least a referendum.

It also hopes that by pushing for separation, the party can hang on to as many of its current 43 Westminster seats as possible, in the face of a Scottish Labour Party that is climbing in the polls. 

“If [the U.K. government] are going to deny us a referendum, then let us use that election to put independence front and center,” Yousaf told activists as the debate began. The Scottish first minister, who currently has relatives trapped in Gaza, also told party activists he appreciated their support “at a time of great personal heartache.” 

Not all in the SNP are overjoyed with the shift in tactics.

Calling for the party to consider the next election a “de facto independence” referendum, a strategy once proposed by Sturgeon, the veteran MP Pete Wishart told activists the new SNP strategy will give “Westminster something new to say no to.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Other activists are concerned about the optics of focusing on independence while many voters are struggling with Britain’s cost-of-living crisis — and some wonder how this strategy will successfully convince U.K. administrations who show little desire to negotiate over independence.

“Nowhere in the resolution or the amendments is there an effective follow up strategy for the outcome after the next election, where the next prime minister turns to us and says ‘get stuffed’,” David Buckley, an activist from Paisley said from the conference stage.