London, United Kingdom – The UK is set for local and regional elections which will present a ballot to the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and test the strength of the country’s centuries-old union.
Votes will take place in England, Scotland and Wales, with some 48 million people eligible to vote for candidates vying for more than 5,000 positions of power.
A seat in the British Parliament, seats on the local council and all the devolved Welsh and Scottish assemblies are among the most important political positions and bodies to be decided.
Polling stations will open at 7 a.m. (06 a.m. GMT) and close at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. GMT).
The results of a few races will be declared in the early hours of Friday before the rest are announced over the next three days.
Politicians and analysts, keen to gauge the mood of the electorate, will closely monitor the results.
The elections come at a fragile time after the UK’s final exit from the European Union and as the nation struggles to recover from one of the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks.
Constitutional crisis brewing
Of all the races on the so-called ‘Super Thursday’, the Scottish Parliament elections, which threaten to trigger a major constitutional crisis for Johnson and his ruling Conservative Party, are of the utmost importance.
Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon is pushing for a second vote on independence within a decade.
His Scottish National Party (SNP) is seeking a second absolute majority in the 129-seat legislature in a bid to step up pressure.
But any legally binding poll would require approval from Johnson’s government, which the prime minister has said he will refuse.
Pre-election polls have indicated the SNP will win the election comfortably, but the majority Sturgeon wants is not guaranteed.
“There is no doubt that if the SNP wins a massive victory, it will set the wind in its sails in terms of an independence referendum,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. , at Al Jazeera.
“Not necessarily immediately, but in the next two years they will be able to claim a warrant for this.”
The SNP lost absolute control of the Holyrood assembly in 2016, two years after 55% of Scots voted against Scottish independence in a referendum that was billed as a ‘once in a while’ poll. generation”.
But calls for a resumption of the 2014 vote grew in the wake of Brexit and the UK government’s handling of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, which many saw as chaotic.
Recent opinion polls have suggested that most Scots are now in favor of secession and, even if the SNP fails to sweep the majority on Thursday, it, along with other pro-independence parties, is expected to win most seats in the Scottish Parliament, which means rallying for one second referendum is unlikely to go away.
This may cause problems for Johnson.
Although he is firmly opposed to another vote for independence, he may find the growing momentum of such a vote increasingly difficult to resist in the future.
To a lesser extent, the Prime Minister also faces wales frayed ties, where the pro-nationalist Plaid Cymru party is poised to make gains in the decentralized 60-seat assembly and could come to play a subordinate role in a post-election coalition with the Labor Party.
Such a result may indicate that Wales is approaching its own moment of constitutional calculation, putting pressure on Johnson, who is desperate to prevent the UK union from collapsing into his custody.
The battle for the “ red wall ” resumes
In England, attention will focus on Hartlepool’s run for parliamentary seat and a series of local council elections in former Labor strongholds that passed to ruling Johnson Tories in the December 2019 general election.
Then Brexit turned electoral battle lines upside down, as some of Labor’s traditional bases were angered by the opposition party’s perceived lack of commitment to making the EU divorce work.
While that didn’t change loyalties in 2019, a Labor defeat in Hartlepool, a northeastern port town that has been won by the party in every election since 1964, would be a blow to party leader Keir Starmer.
Starmer, who took over from Jeremy Corbyn after the 2019 vote, has placed restoring support in traditional Labor homes high on his agenda, pledging to rebuild the party’s so-called ‘red wall’ in the Midlands and north of England.
But the Tories could be on course for an important victory at Hartlepool and the right-wing party is once again well positioned to make a breakthrough in a number of traditionally Labor-dominated local councils, polls show.
“We expect the same kind of patterns we saw in 2019 to now play out on a more local level, with the Tories starting to win seats in areas previously considered to be strong Labor areas,” Chris Curtis, director research at a survey company. Opinium, told Al Jazeera.
While the results may shed some light on the extent of the electoral realignment in England, Curtis and Bale cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the results of local polls, which often see low voter turnout rates. participation.
“Local elections are a useful straw in the wind, but I don’t think they are the ultimate solution,” Bale said. “Watching them is fun to do, but can be quite deceptive.”
He and Curtis have instead referred to opinion polls as a more accurate barometer of the country’s political mood, and recent polls have suggested that Starmer’s Labor Party is moving closer to the Tories.
Johnson’s government had enjoyed a resurgence in popularity earlier this year thanks to the rapid deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, but that appears to have been thwarted by a recent wave of allegations the Prime Minister is also involved in “harassment”. like accusations of ministerial cronyism.