UK election boosts hopes of pro-independence Scottish party
LONDON (AP) — The Scottish National Party launched its campaign for Britain's Dec. 12 election on Friday, urging Scots to send its lawmakers to London in order to bring Scotland a step closer to independence.
The party currently holds 35 of Scotland's 59 House of Commons seats, and hopes discontent about Brexit will boost that number. In Britain's 2016 referendum on European Union membership, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the 28-nation bloc.
Polls suggest that has boosted support for independence, which Scottish voters rejected in a 2014 plebiscite. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said "Scotland's vote to remain in the EU has been ignored" and that a vote for the SNP "is a vote to escape Brexit."
The party says it will try to hold a new independence referendum next year. That would require the approval of the British government in London. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives say they will refuse to give permission.
But the SNP could emerge as kingmakers if the election results in a divided Parliament with no party holding an overall majority. Sturgeon said a Parliament with no overall majority would be "the best outcome for Scotland, because it gives us significant influence and power."
Sturgeon said the party would not prop up a Conservative administration, but could help the main opposition Labour Party hold power — as long as Labour agreed to support a new independence referendum for Scotland.
Johnson pushed for the December election — taking place more than two years early — in the hope of breaking Britain's political impasse over Brexit. He says that if voters give the Conservatives a majority he will "get Brexit done" and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current deadline of Jan. 31.
Labour says it will negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU and then let voters decide between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc. Both big parties are also promising more money for infrastructure, health care and public services, but their campaigns have been rattled by candidate resignations over contentious or offensive remarks.
On Thursday a prospective Conservative candidate quit the race amid condemnation of his 2014 comment that women should "keep your knickers on" to avoid being raped. Nick Conrad, a former BBC local radio host, said he was sorry for the "ill-judged" words.
Labour, meanwhile, is facing renewed allegations that it has become hostile to Jews under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn. On Thursday two former Labour lawmakers urged voters to back Johnson's Conservatives and accused Corbyn, a long-time supporter of the Palestinians, of allowing anti-Jewish racism to spread within the Labour Party.
Corbyn denied the allegations, describing anti-Semitism "a poison and an evil in our society" and saying he was working to root it out. On Friday Labour election candidate Gideon Bull withdrew from the election contest in the eastern England town of Clacton after he was accused of referring to someone as "Shylock," the fictional Jewish moneylender from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice."
Bull apologized. "I did not know that Shylock was Jewish and I would never have mentioned Shylock if I had known this," he said.
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