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Scottish National Party leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks in Edinburgh, on Dec. 13, 2019.

ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s overwhelming election victory has exposed deep fault lines in Scotland and Northern Ireland, raising the spectre of separatist forces tearing the United Kingdom apart.

While Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives won a substantial majority in Thursday’s election, taking 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, the Tories lost ground in Scotland to the Scottish National Party (SNP) and saw their ally in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), suffer a major setback. The results have bolstered calls for Scottish independence and Irish unification, setting up clashes with Mr. Johnson.

The immediate threat comes from Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has seized on the election outcome and demanded another referendum on independence. “This is not about asking Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician for permission. It is an assertion of the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future,” she said in a speech in Edinburgh Friday. “So, to the Prime Minister, let me be clear: It is the right of the people of Scotland – and you, as the leader of a defeated party in Scotland, have no right to stand in the way.”

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Ms. Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalists won 48 of 59 seats in Scotland and took 45 per cent of the popular vote, while the Conservatives lost seven of their 13 seats to the SNP.

BRITISH GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS

650 of 650 declared - Dec. 13, 16:30 GMT

326 for majority

Conservative

SNP

LABOUR

365

48

203

Other: 15

Lib Dem: 11

DUP: 8

SCOTLAND

NORTHERN

IRELAND

ENGLAND

WALES

ENGLAND

CON

345 (+48)

LABOUR

180 (-47)

LIB DEM

7 (-1)

GREEN

1 (–)

SCOTLAND

SNP

48 (+13)

CON

6 (-7)

LIB DEM

4 (–)

LABOUR

1 (-6)

WALES

LABOUR

22 (-6)

CON

14 (+6)

PLAID CYMRU

4 (–)

NORTHERN IRELAND

DUP

8 (-2)

OTHERS

10

Note: The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, from the Chorley constituency, is included as 'Other' as he does not take part in votes or follows party discipline.

SOURCES: REUTERS; BBC

BRITISH GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS

650 of 650 declared - Dec. 13, 16:30 GMT

326 for majority

Conservative

SNP

LABOUR

365

48

203

Other: 15

Lib Dem: 11

DUP: 8

SCOTLAND

NORTHERN

IRELAND

ENGLAND

WALES

ENGLAND

CON

345 (+48)

LABOUR

180 (-47)

LIB DEM

7 (-1)

GREEN

1 (–)

SCOTLAND

SNP

48 (+13)

CON

6 (-7)

LIB DEM

4 (–)

LABOUR

1 (-6)

WALES

LABOUR

22 (-6)

CON

14 (+6)

PLAID CYMRU

4 (–)

NORTHERN IRELAND

DUP

8 (-2)

OTHERS

10

Note: The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, from the Chorley constituency, is included as 'Other' as he does not take part in votes or follows party discipline.

SOURCES: REUTERS; BBC

BRITISH GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS

650 of 650 declared - Dec. 13, 16:30 GMT

326 for majority

Conservative

SNP

LABOUR

365

48

203

Other: 15

Lib Dem: 11

DUP: 8

SCOTLAND

NORTHERN

IRELAND

ENGLAND

WALES

ENGLAND

SCOTLAND

CON

345 (+48)

SNP

48 (+13)

LABOUR

180 (-47)

CON

6 (-7)

LIB DEM

7 (-1)

LIB DEM

4 (–)

GREEN

1 (–)

LABOUR

1 (-6)

WALES

NORTHERN IRELAND

LABOUR

22 (-6)

DUP

8 (-2)

CON

14 (+6)

OTHERS

10

PLAID CYMRU

4 (–)

Note: The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, from the Chorley constituency, is included as 'Other' as he does not take part in votes or follows party discipline.

SOURCES: REUTERS; BBC

Mr. Johnson has steadfastly opposed another Scottish referendum, arguing the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent to remain in the U.K. “The British people, the people of Scotland, were told in 2014 that that was a once-in-a-generation event,” he said during the election campaign. However, Ms. Sturgeon has insisted that Brexit has changed everything and that Scotland must hold another vote because most Scots oppose leaving the European Union. "Boris Johnson has a mandate to take England out of the EU but he must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future,” she said.

Simon Hix, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics, said Mr. Johnson will have a hard time ignoring Ms. Sturgeon’s demands. “Nobody was predicting this many seats for the SNP,” he said. “The Scottish National Party will take this as a mandate for a second referendum. Boris Johnson is going to deny it, and we’re in Catalonia territory. I don’t know where that ends up,” he added, referring to the ongoing struggle for independence in the Spanish region.

Patrick Dunleavy, also a politics professor at LSE, said Thursday’s results also put the SNP in a strong position to win a majority in the Scottish parliamentary election in 2021 (Ms. Sturgeon currently heads a minority government). If that happens, “it will be very, very hard for the Westminster government to take the Spanish government tack and refuse to hold a referendum,” he said. “So I think we’re heading for a pretty big constitutional clash.”

In Northern Ireland, the election saw big gains for two moderate parties that strongly oppose Brexit – the Alliance Party and the Social Democrat and Labour Party. The SDLP won just two seats, and Alliance one, but both reached new highs in their share of the popular vote. And, for the first time, two parties that support reunification with Ireland – the SDLP and Sinn Fein – now hold a majority of seats in Northern Ireland.

The DUP lost two of its 10 seats, and its share of the popular vote fell 5 per cent. The party also lost its clout at Westminster. The DUP had been propping up the Conservative minority government and had won several concessions in return, including more money for Northern Ireland. Now that the Tories have a majority, Mr. Johnson no longer needs the DUP’s support.

Brexit has not been popular in Northern Ireland, and there is growing concern that the withdrawal agreement Mr. Johnson struck with the EU will cut the province off from the rest of the U.K. Under the deal, Northern Ireland will remain tied to EU regulations in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland. However, that means there will be checks on goods moving into Northern Ireland from Britain. Mr. Johnson has insisted the checks will be minimal, but business groups and every party in Northern Ireland disagree and warn the deal will damage the local economy.

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Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald has been campaigning for a referendum on reunification with Ireland because of Brexit and kept up that call Friday. “Brexit has changed the political landscape in Ireland, in Britain and in Europe,” she said. “All the old certainties are gone.”

There are signs Brexit has boosted support for Irish reunification. A poll in September found that 46 per cent of those surveyed backed it, while 45 per cent were opposed. Previous polls have consistently put remaining in the U.K. far ahead.

Prof. Hix said one reason for the growing support has been changing attitudes among middle-class Protestants, who have begun to identify far more as Irish. While most working-class Protestants continue to firmly back the union with Britain, wealthier Protestants don’t see Irish unity as a threat, he added.

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