Traders have warned of pound volatility if Scotland backs an independence bid. It is expected that the pound will suffer in the coming months if Nicola Sturgeon wins a landslide majority in next month's Holyrood election. Unless there is certainty that there will not be a second independence referendum, the British pound will be potentially under threat.
On 6th of May, Scotland will vote for the next Holyrood parliament and if there is strong result for pro-independence parties then more pressure will be placed on the UK government to grant Scotland the right for another independence referendum. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already vowed to push for a second referendum and her demand will be strengthened if pro-independence parties win more than 50 percent of the vote.
While the pound has risen since a trade agreement was sealed with the EU, the ensuing political uncertainty following the May elections could mean that risk-averse investors will stay away from buying UK assets. Polls show the pro-referendum SNP party could win the vote, but, recently, there have been strong concerns about the party’s ability to secure a majority.
What currency analysts are saying?
A heavily pro-independence vote in next month’s Scottish Parliament election could mean a fall in Sterling as investors will avoid trading British stocks. Stephen Gallo, European head of currency strategy BMO Capital Markets, said: “Come early May the markets will wake up to this and probably trade the size of the majority or the end result. The stronger Nicola Sturgeon’s position is, the more headline risk there’s going to be over the next three to six months regarding this issue.” He also said that currency movement won’t be huge but a strong SNP will mean that Sterling will find it difficult to extend its rally. Goldman Sachs’ strategist, Sharon Bell said that a “prolonged period of political uncertainty, coming straight after 5 years of Brexit uncertainty, would be unlikely to encourage global investors back to UK stocks.” A second Scottish referendum will be risky, but UK stocks are still cheap after a disappointing performance due to Brexit.
What would happen if the SNP were to win the majority?
If the SNP win a majority, Sturgeon has said that her party will seek a second referendum, and this is the reason that analysts are concerned. In a recent briefing to its clients, Berenberg has noted that the Scottish parliamentary elections could result in a majority for parties supporting Scottish independence.
The SNP currently rules in a minority government, but polling suggests that it is on course to win a majority, increasing pressure on Boris Johnson’s government to accept another independence vote.
An Ipsos Mori poll for STV News this week predicted that 70 of Holyrood’s 129 MSPs will be from the SNP, which means that Sturgeon’s party will get an 11-seat majority. Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has failed to have any affect in the polls, but his party as well as the Greens also support holding a second referendum. Any combination of the above parties will result in a pro-independence majority.
"Such an outcome could make waves in markets and refuel worries about the UK’s prospects following Brexit – which has raised the tail risk that Scotland may one day leave the UK to re-enter the EU as an independent country," says Holger Schmieding, Chief Economist at Berenberg.
The results of the 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 Brexit referendum have highlighted how uncertainty can affect Sterling exchange rates. The pound fell following concerns about the outcome of the 2014 independence referendum but immediately rose after it was clear that Alex Salmond’s independence movement was defeated.
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