The only clear conclusion to be drawn from the European election results is that the country is now divided along new lines.
When the general election comes – in 2022, as currently scheduled or sooner, depending on who succeeds Theresa May – the electorate will vote largely for Remain or Leave.
European ballots are often a law unto themselves, but given the nation’s ongoing Brexit crisis, the patterns that emerged in this poll could reasonably be used as a guide to future voting intentions.
The ideological battle will be between the party or parties promising a hard Eurosceptic position and those offering not just Remain, but a People’s Vote, or second EU referendum.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, five weeks’ old, but now with the most MEPs, has become the refuge for Brexiteers who don’t trust the Conservatives to deliver on the June 2016 outcome.
And the Liberal Democrats, who came a triumphant second, are the beneficiaries of Labour’s dithering over who to support – its old-Labour Leave supporting heartlands or its Remain-backing moderates (to overgeneralise).
The near annihilation of both the main parties points to a realignment post Brexit, with Britain still split right down the middle over its future in Europe.
There has been much counting and calculating to gauge who ended up with the most votes, Remain or Leave. According to the psephologist John Curtice, they came out about the same, so nothing is plain except the fact that the next election will be about Europe.
Unless you live in Scotland. The results here were certainly a big boost for the pro-Europe camp, with the SNP gaining 37.7% of the vote for its unambiguous Remain stance.
Nicola Sturgeon insisted this election was about the EU, and Scotland’s overwhelming wish to be a part of it, and the voters believed her. But no sooner had the results been declared than the nationalist leader jumped back on her more familiar bandwagon.
On a trip to Ireland, Scotland’s fifth-largest export market, Sturgeon called for a rerun next year of the independence referendum that she and her fellow separatists lost in 2014.
“I want to see Scotland having the choice of independence within this term of the Scottish Parliament, which ends in May 2021, so towards the latter half of next year would be when I think is the right time for that choice,’ she told her Irish hosts.
Giddy about winning three SNP seats in the European parliament, when her personal authority over her party is diminished and she is embroiled in an internecine struggle for its soul, she quickly forgot that this election had been about Europe.
With the UK set to leave the EU on October 31, all the MEPs have a short political life expectancy.
But Sturgeon’s own prospects in her party will be better than they have been of late if she puts a date in the diary for indyref2.
SNP activists have kept up the pressure on their chief, although opinion poll after opinion poll has shown no desire in Scotland for further constitutional upheaval.
For the majority of Scots, leaving the UK – our biggest export market by far – would be a greater calamity than leaving the EU, however attached most of us still are to that union.
The SNP is deluding itself if it believes Scotland’s voting over Europe last week reflects a change in attitudes towards secession.
Sturgeon has spent the past three years trying to recruit Remain-supporting unionists to her independence cause, but to no avail.
And she has ignored the Leave sympathisers within her own ranks, estimated to be about a third of separatists.
In a general election, there would be no doubt in voters’ minds that they were being asked to give the SNP a mandate for another go at breaking up Britain.
Despite the nationalists’ success in the European elections, the combined votes for the unionist parties were convincingly ahead.
This should be a sign for Sturgeon that there is little correlation in Scotland between liking the EU and wanting to leave the UK. In a Yes/No independence referendum, as things stand, the nationalists would face a second defeat.
The bill Sturgeon is tabling today, setting out her plans for a new ballot, requires the sanction of Westminster.
As this is likely to be refused by London, Scotland’s electoral preferences will next be tested in a general election.
By then, Sturgeon will have hounded every party leader, and every prospective party leader, to back her demands.
Scottish nationalist grievances will again consume the Scottish Government while it again neglects its domestic duties.
If there is no appetite now for the SNP’s referendum, there will be even less of one three years from now.
The nationalists might look smug today, but is this their last hurrah?