Politics Explained

How British politics will change in 2021

A united Ireland? An independent Scotland? The beginning of the end of Covid? We may finally be waving goodbye to years of Brexit squabbling, but it has spawned a whole new set of issues set to take centre stage this year. Sean O’Grady explains

Friday 01 January 2021 16:01
<p>Time to shine? The SNP is expected to win May’s Scottish parliament election by a landslide, making a second independence referendum ever more likely&nbsp;</p>

Time to shine? The SNP is expected to win May’s Scottish parliament election by a landslide, making a second independence referendum ever more likely 

What will politics be like in 2021? Not quite same old, same old. Brexit will fade, at long last. It’s in the interests of most of the parties to “draw a line under it”, as the cliche goes, given the trouble it’s (mostly) caused the politicians, and the fact the public is heartily bored by it. It will now be Labour’s turn to be divided, as we saw in the recent Commons vote on the free trade deal. At every level Labour voters, members and MPs who were Remainers, or at least some of them, will morph into Rejoiners, and demand a commitment to go back into the EU. Keir Starmer will hope to unite the party under a vague commitment to build on the “base” of the current deal to build a “closer” partnership with the EU, but no more. Even if Brexit turns disastrous – and there will inevitably be some chaos, closures and job losses, it’s unlikely to stimulate any great appetite among the voters for another great national debate on Europe.  

As a political virus, Brexit will, though, mutate in unpredictable ways. It will, for example, start to figure even more prominently in the argument about Scottish independence, or “Scexit” as it may yet come to be known. After all, most of the arguments about sovereignty and taking back control deployed by the SNP have quite a Brexity feel to them, just as the case against trade barriers and being better together have an echo of the Remain campaign. In any case, Nicola Sturgeon seems set to win a landslide victory and one explicitly seeking a mandate for a second independence referendum. If London just says “no”, there will indeed be a bitterly divisive constitutional crisis, and one that probably can’t be resolved by the Supreme Court. As in Ireland a century ago, there will be many in Scotland who will question the legitimacy of the Westminster government, and will seek ways to resist, though through peaceful political protest, resistance and disobedience. Most of the English, it has to be said, would have no objection to Scotland going its own way; the dispute would be with the militantly Unionist government that refuses to even talk to Sturgeon.  

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