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AFP
May 7, 2021

UK votes as independence debate heats up in Scotland

AFP
May 7, 2021

LONDON: Voters went to the polls for "Super Thursday" elections that could reshape the UK as pro-independence forces in Scotland bid to break away, in the first major electoral test since Brexit and the coronavirus crisis.

The regional and local elections will test backing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives after he led Britain out of the EU and through the pandemic, overseeing Europe’s highest death toll but also its fastest vaccine rollout.

Johnson, who has shrugged off recent scandals, urged high turnout for "a very big day at the polls". "It’s the Conservatives who are delivering on your priorities, better taxpayer value, other parties (are) just playing political games," he said in a Twitter video clip.

Any "vaccine bounce" for the Conservatives in key English races would fuel criticism of Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour party, ahead of the next general election due in 2024.

The Conservatives were hoping to spring an electoral surprise by grabbing the UK parliamentary seat of Hartlepool, in a special election deep in Labour’s once-impregnable heartland of northeast England.

The Hartlepool result is due in the early hours of Friday, and the other outcomes will take shape over the weekend. Social distancing rules for ballot counters are expected to slow down the process. Voting was also underway for local councils in England, regional mayors including in London, and for the devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland.

Results for the Edinburgh parliament are expected on Saturday evening, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) seeking a pro-independence majority to put pressure on Johnson to permit another referendum on splitting from the UK. Johnson has said Scotland’s 2014 referendum, when 55 percent of people voted "no" to independence, closed the debate for a generation.