Scotland’s Future Casts Shadow Over Johnson’s Election Triumph

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is celebrating triumphant early results in U.K. elections but he faces trouble ahead with a resurgent Scottish independence movement also making crucial gains.

In a key set of local and national votes, Johnson’s ruling Conservatives tightened their grip on the former industrial heartlands of northern England, dealing a heavy blow to the main opposition Labour Party.

Conservatives Hail Wins, SNP Making Gains: U.K. Elections Update

Johnson’s side won an emphatic victory over center-left Labour in the coastal town of Hartlepool, taking the parliamentary seat for the first since its creation in 1974.

Tories hailed that result as evidence that Johnson has permanently changed the British political landscape, and that recent squalls over his expenses and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t matter to ordinary voters.

Speaking to reporters in Hartlepool, Johnson said the win showed voters saw that the Conservatives “did get Brexit done” and would continue the vaccine rollout and ensure a strong economic recovery — “making sure we go from jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs, jobs.”

“There is genius and talent and enthusiasm and flair everywhere in the country, but opportunity is not evenly distributed and that’s what I’m trying to change,” Johnson said, re-stating his longstanding pledge to “level up” disadvantaged regions of the country.

Scottish Challenge

But north of the border in Scotland, the prime minister is far less popular. Instead of a Tory surge, a pro-independence movement led by the dominant Scottish National Party of Nicola Sturgeon continued to hold sway.

She is pushing for a new mandate to call a referendum on whether Scotland should break away from the rest of the U.K., and wants a clear majority in the Scottish parliament to pressure Johnson to grant one.

The outcome remained on a knife edge, with the SNP hoping to win at least 65 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament. Sturgeon said that while her party was on course to secure a fourth term in power, it was always a “very long shot” to get a majority because of Scotland’s electoral system.

The outcome hinges on nine marginal constituency seats the SNP needs to win, John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, told the BBC. The SNP had won two of those by late afternoon on Friday, one of them by a mere 170 votes.

‘Better Future’

“I pledge to get back to work immediately to continue to steer this country through crisis of Covid,” Sturgeon said after holding her district in Glasgow. “Then, when time is right, to offer this country the choice of a better future.”

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