LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were tempered on Saturday, as the dominant Scottish nationalist party was projected to fall two seats short of a majority in the country’s Parliament.
The Scottish National Party’s results, though impressive, appeared to deprive it of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.
Yet pro-independence parties stayed in control and even expanded their overall majority in the vote, held on Thursday, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away from the United Kingdom will continue to bedevil British politics.
The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in the separatists’ direction. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists will tighten their control over the regional Parliament.
Party leaders have signaled that they will put a second referendum at the top of the agenda after Scotland recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the Scots voted on independence, in 2014, they opted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 percent to 45 percent. Polls show close to a 50-50 split on the question now, with support for breaking away having weakened in recent months.
While disappointing to the Scottish nationalists, the apparent absence of a clear majority might ultimately work to their advantage, by giving them time to build support for a referendum rather than being stampeded into an immediate campaign by the pressure of an overwhelming mandate.
Still, the result would be a relief to Mr. Johnson, for whom the dissolution of the United Kingdom looms as a potentially defining event for his premiership. He remains deeply unpopular in Scotland, and it is not clear how well prepared his government is to counter a reinvigorated push for Scottish independence.
For his part, Mr. Johnson was basking in the Conservative Party’s victories in regional elections across England, which left the opposition Labour Party in disarray and reinforced his reputation as an inveterate vote-getter. Yet some of the same post-Brexit populism that won the Conservatives votes in working-class parts of the Midlands and northern England worked against him in a more liberal and Brexit-averse Scotland.
Mr. Johnson vowed to reject demands for a referendum, saying that as Britain emerged from the pandemic, the country should focus on rebuilding the economy rather than fighting over constitutional issues.
“I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” he said Friday to The Daily Telegraph. “I think that there’s no case now for such a thing. I don’t think it’s what the times call for at all.”
Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum